Thursday, 4 August 2016

Visiting the swift tower

Yesterday we did a stop in Oxford on our way south of the UK. After lunch, we quickly popped by the Natural History Museum. This magnificent building holds the swift breeding population that have been studied for several decades. The nests are in adapted nest boxes, which have access from the inside of the building for ringing in the main tower.

A detail of the tower showing the entrances to the nest boxes.

It is quite late in the short Swift breeding season and many fledglings and adults have already left for their African wintering quarters. Every time I see a swift I think it could be the last of the year, so I was not too hopeful of seeing any around the tower.

Birdtrack reporting rate of Swift, showing the main breeding season from May to August.
Then the website revealed that the last Swift nestling in the tower was born a couple of weeks ago (18th July) and hadn't yet fledged. The Museum has set up a live webcam in which you can follow one of the nests. The webcam is now set up onto the latest born nestling. I watched the nestling for a while today and got a couple of screen grabs.
An adult likely after feeding the chick, on the foreground, and the well grown nestling. Young have pale-rimmed feathers on their face, unlike adults.
The youngster resting. It spent some time flapping its wings and grooming. Although is quite feathered, its wing feathers are still quite short. The wing feathers will need to reach beyond the end of its tail before it can leave the nest. You can also see a rejected egg just outside the nest.

As we walked onto the square in front of the Museum and just after taking a few photos, a lone Swift flew overhead. Not the mad noisy chases of dozens of Swifts that usually surround the tower at the peak of the breeding season, but a great end of a lovely visit. 


  1. The webcam pictures are fascinating. Hope we'll see them doing press-ups to strengthen their flight muscles before they go. Was wondering whether the entrances in the tower are part of the original building, or whether they were put in later for the Swifts. There seems to be quite an old picture here, and the entrances are visible, so perhaps they were originally intended as ventilators or just a neo-Gothic ornament, and the Swifts happened to find them suitable.

    1. You are right Ralph, the entrances were for ventilation, and the inside was repurposed so that the nests could be checked.

  2. The bulk of our screaming Swift population left overnight on July 28th, eventually shrinking to just one lone straggler who I last spotted at lunchtime on Monday. My heart lifts with the first sighting of the year and drops when they disappear again such a short time later.
    This year though, we had an unusually close encounter with one of our guests.

    1. That was a great story, it is always magic to connect with a swift and release it and great to hear your swift was safely released after its starling ordeal