Harleston's swifts know no boundaries. They are our free-spirited emblems for people and wildlife as they journey across continents and countries, towns and villages.
Swifts are in trouble, with their breeding numbers plummeting. A 47% decrease in their breeding numbers between 1995 and 2014 made swifts an amber-listed species.
We believe loss of nest sites is at least partly responsible. These migrant birds return from their wintering grounds in Africa to the same spot each year to breed; usually in buildings, in gaps under roof tiles and eaves. Due to our tendency to seal up buildings during renovation or knock them down, swifts are returning to discover their nest site has gone or access is blocked.
Conservation groups across the country and overseas have been established by groups of volunteers who are trying to provide the habitat for these wonderful migratory birds to breed. Harleston is a swift friendly town and have set up Swift Action who have built and installed nest boxes on buildings throughout the town, even providing special speakers which broadcast swift calls to attract passing birds.
Did you know?
According to RSPB 'Studies of swifts have revealed some startling facts; particularly their ability to fly long distances. It's estimated that swifts fly an average daily total of 800km; nearly 500 miles. That's about 2 million km (more than 1.24 million miles) in a lifetime. Swifts spend their life almost entirely on the wing and even feed, sleep and mate in flight. They feed exclusively on insects and only come to land when nesting.
They hunt for insects over a range of habitats from meadows, open water and over woods, to the skies above towns and cities. An abundant supply of insects is critical for their survival. Parent swifts collect lots of insects to take back to their chicks – up to 1,000 at once, which make a big bulge in their throat. When they have chicks to feed, swifts can gather as many as 100,000 insects a day.
'Our' swifts fly across the Sahara desert in autumn and some even go as far south as South Africa. Others don't go quite as far and stay around central Africa. It's a long journey but they don't hang around: one young bird left its nest in Oxford and flew all the way to Madrid in just three days.
As a group, swifts are the fastest birds in level flight. The peregrine is officially the fastest bird but only in a steep dive called a stoop. Our swift holds the record for the fastest proven flight, recording an impressive top speed of 69.3mph in a recent study. The needle-tailed swift of Africa and Asia has been reported to reach over 100mph but this is yet to be officially proven.'