Swifts and churches

Swift numbers in the UK decreased by 53% between 1995 and 2016

There are several likely reasons for this, but one is the loss of nest sites. Swifts return to the same nest hole every year, and so when buildings need repair or are demolished, nest sites can be lost.

Almost without exception modern buildings do not have the gaps and crevices which are essential for swifts to nest, so largely it is older, less well-sealed buildings with a few gaps under the eaves or tiles or in the pointing, which are favoured - like some of our churches.

What to look for

We are encouraging people to notice swifts and where they are nesting. If local people know where the nest sites are, it’s easier to look after them and encourage swift-friendly building work.

Swifts nesting in a church can easily go unnoticed. Parties of screaming swifts may be obvious, but they are extremely adept at entering their nest holes; add the facts that nests are not visible from the outside and that swifts leave no mess, and it’s not surprising that the nests are often overlooked.

What to do

There are several ways in which parishioners, PCCs and church authorities can help.

One is by being alert to the possibility that swifts may be using the church for nesting. Screaming parties of swifts seen regularly near the church are an indication that they are nesting in the building or very close by. You can map swift nests you find using the RSPB's Swift Mapper.

In the period when swifts are actually nesting, it is illegal to disturb them. The same applies to all birds. At other times the ideal solution is to leave the particular space alone if at all possible.

If this cannot be done, advice should be obtained about swift-friendly building work and providing alternatives. For more information, see Swift ConservationAction for Swifts or, in Oxfordshire, there is the RSPB's Oxford Swift City project. 

Nest boxes

If swifts are found to be using the church for nesting or if screaming parties are seen nearby, it may be possible to install a nest box behind the louvred windows in the tower. This would need the support of the PCC and approval from the diocese, but it is relatively cheap and simple to do, and it does not involve drilling into the masonry.

It has been successfully done in several churches in Cambridgeshire and local churches in Oxfordshire are now following their example. 

The Cherwell Swifts Conservation Project has these aims:

  • to protect swifts’ nesting places;
  • to encourage the creation of more nest places and;
  • to raise awareness of the reasons for swifts’ declining population and what people can do about it.

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Page last updated: 7th January 2022 11:09 AM