Sunday, 16 November 2014

How to help House Sparrows

House Sparrows are said to be in trouble in the UK. They are a red-listed species, apparently in a  worse predicament than Swifts which are only amber-listed, even though, according to official estimates, there is only 1 pair of Swifts for every 60 pairs of House Sparrows.

Although the rate of decline of House Sparrow numbers has reduced since 1994, the start of BBS, prior to that, between 1976 and 1994, there had been an enormous drop of about 70% detected by the Common Bird Census (see BTO webpage)The causes of the decline in House Sparrows are stated to be a decrease in survival and a decrease in productivity.

There is little data on the population level of Swifts prior to 1994, apart from the Atlases of 1968-72 and 1988-91, which show a contraction. It could also be the case that environmental factors affecting food availability are a contributory factor in the decline of Swifts.

A House Sparrow in an internal Swift box in Fulbourn
House Sparrows also largely depend upon cavities in human dwellings, but loss of nest sites has not been cited as a contributory cause of any decline. This is surprising, since modern building standards, renovation practices and insulation policies would affect House Sparrows at least as much as Swifts. 

This may be more damaging for House Sparrows, as they prefer to nest in close association with their congeners, whereas Swifts will nest either alone or in close association with each other, depending upon the distribution of cavities.

Many more House Sparrows than Swifts occupy these
Zeist boxes at Edgecombe flats, Cambridge
It is therefore good news for sparrows that they will happily occupy Swift boxes. It seems that a horizontally extending cavity, with an entrance near the floor, is perfectly acceptable to sparrows. 

Sparrow terraces, comprising 3 adjacent tit-like nest boxes are commonly erected for House Sparrows, but occupancy rates are low. They host more Great Tits and Blue Tits than House Sparrows.

Swift nest on top of House Sparrow nest at Ely Maltings
Should Swifts wish to take over a Swift nest box occupied by House Sparrows, then they will usually evict the sparrows, and then nest on top of the 'haystack' built by the sparrows. 

There can be a risk that Swifts get themselves entangled, especially if string or twine is brought into the nest, so removing this at the end of the season might be a good idea.

Therefore, if you wish to help House Sparrows, erect plenty of Swift boxes!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Worlington celebrates Suffolk Wildlife Trust accolade

Worlington has won the Suffolk Wildlife Trust Award for Conservation for 2014.

In 2012 we reported on the success of nest boxes in All Saints church, now increased to 20 occupied nest boxes in 2014. Originally, back in 2009, Judith Wakelam raised the alarm when a cottage with breeding swifts was scheduled to be knocked down.

Swift boxes were installed by Action for Swifts as mitigation for the loss of these nest sites. Don McBean, who lives right next to the church organised an attraction call player and, eventually, cameras in the boxes after Swifts took up residence. A Swift Fest event in July 2013 attracted 200 people to observe a truly great spectacle.

Ironically, the conservation award was judged in Worlington in August 2014 after all of the Swifts had departed, but despite this, Judith's vivid description of the spectacle that they had missed was enough.

The following appeared in the Newmarket Journal:


Swift project helps village scoop conservation award
Villagers in Worlington have been celebrating after the village picked up a major conservation award.
Worlington, Forest Heath's Village of the Year, lost out on the county title to Whatfield but on Saturday it was awarded the Suffolk Wildlife Trust Award for conservation, recognising projects in the village, including one aimed at encouraging swifts run by Judith Wakelam and featured in the journal earlier this year. Other initiatives included not cutting areas of the churchyard in the growing season and planting hedge plants. Pictured above are, from left, Gill Jones, Val McClure and Judith Wakelam with their winners' certificates.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Experiences with small Swift boxes

Since 2006, in my local church belfry in Landbeach, we have had 4 cabinets, each containing 4 large boxes, and the swifts have ignored them, though 3 swarms of bees have not. As soon as we added small boxes in 2013, behind the top louvres, we had success.

by Dick


All Saints, Landbeach
We have been getting a gratifyingly high success rate with small Swift boxes. e.g. not only 4 out of 8 small boxes in Landbeach church, but also 7 out of 12 air brick liners occupied in St Neots, and 6 out of 18 small boxes in Worlington church. These boxes have a floor area of 175mm-200mm x 200mm and at least 100mm internal headroom. 

In the two churches we played attraction calls using the Cheng Sheng player-amplifier. In St Neots, no calls were played, but the boxes were installed as mitigation for lost nest sites. 

In all three cases, the entrances are set back from the 'outside world': behind louvres in the churches and behind a thick barge board in St NeotsAll occupations were achieved within a year or 2 of installation. 

Further evidence of the acceptability of small boxes is at St Mary's Ely: the success rate of the smallest boxes with floor area 100mm x 300mm marginally exceeds the larger boxes. Also the successful Losser box in Holland has a floor area of only 160mm x 165mm. The Ibstock swift brick, with an internal width of 100mm is accepted by Swifts.

So, it is established that boxes with a small floor area are accepted by Swifts. Could they even be preferred? We are now trying to establish where the limits are with headroom, before occupancy rates drop off to an unacceptable level. There are many examples of Swifts nesting successfully with low headroom under tiles, and we know of one occupied box in Cambridge with internal headroom 75mm, floor area ~120mm x 375mm. These birds raised 2 chicks.

We are now in the process of reengineering the Landbeach church cabinets. The louvres are close together (80-90mm), so, originally, to give what we thought was adequate headroom, the entrances were behind every other louvre gap. The original four cabinets had 4 boxes each with floor area 200mm x ~400mm and internal height ~180mm.

Two of these cabinets will have each box further divided into 4 smaller boxes - each one half the height and half the floor area. There will be 2 entrances within each louvre gap (see cabinet on the right below). In the other two cabinets, each original box is divided into 2 with half the floor area, but staggered in such a way that there is at least 1 entrance in each louvre gap. So, to make this work, there are some boxes at the top and bottom of these 2 cabinets with smaller headroom (see cabinet on the left below)

Part of the incentive for doing this is to make the boxes less attractive to bees, a problem peculiar to this belfry. Bees should not survive a winter in a box this small. But the main incentive is in the nature of an experiment (somebody has to try it), which ultimately may mean modifying one of these 2 configurations to the other in the future, depending on the results.

If small boxes are at least as effective as large boxes, then they should be preferred - they are less obtrusive and easier to install.

Front arrangement of entrances

Hinged inspection doors

(Dead) Swift on concave in box with headroom ~130mm


Swift in box with low headroom of ~85mm

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A Remarkable Escape

We often wonder at how a young Swift, never having flown before, manages to emerge from a dark nesting place, launch itself into the outside world, then navigate itself to Africa.

Judith with one of her rescued Swifts
Judith Wakelam is an experienced Swift rehabber who so far this year (2014) had taken in 24 Swifts and subsequently successfully released all of them into the wild. Her normal method of release is to take them to Newmarket Heath, a large open space with short grass, so should a released Swift come to ground, there is a high chance of retrieving it. This cautious approach has led to nearly a hundred successful releases in previous years. On her own, Judith's efforts are equivalent to the production of a substantial Swift colony.

Then came Swift number 25, weighing in at 22 grams which Judith managed to fatten up to 33gm: quite light for a Swift, but it was a small bird. Judith realised that it was near ready for release as it was as fat as larger Swifts that are ready to go. 

The bird was in a box in the study. The walls of the box were about 31cm high with a base 51cm x 42cm. The back door was open and as Judith was putting some items away in a hall cupboard she was overtaken by a bird which came out of the study, through the short hallway, into the kitchen out of the open back door, then up and away!  From where the box was situated to the back door, is approximately 17 metres as the swift flies. 

Judith's reaction was : "I was so shocked that for a few moments I couldn’t believe what I had seen.  I rushed to look in the box to confirm what I thought I had seen and yes I had been overtaken by an escaping swift!"

This anecdote illustrates that young Swifts are nowhere near as feeble and vulnerable as we, who anthropomorphise, might think.

Swift 25 on 21st August
Swift 25 on 25th August, 5 days before it escaped

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Cambridge Swift Tower - 2014 update

The breaking news is that, in the 4th summer of playing attraction calls, the Swifts have finally found the nest-boxes.

The tower was built in 2011 and we started playing calls with a customised bird scarer. Swifts showed some interest, but none were seen going very close to the nest-boxes.

We continued in 2012 with the same result and the bird scarer had become unreliable. We suspect the 5 watt solar panel was not quite up to the task, so we installed our own 'Box of Swifts' with a 1.5 inch car tweeter. The result was the same.

So, in 2013, after we had stumbled across the Cheng Sheng player amplifier, we installed a 20 watt solar panel to charge the battery which drove the player-amp and 2 tweeters. This resulted in Swifts actually making contact with the tower, clinging to the boxes, but still not finding any entrances. As a result of this, we made some more entrances where we thought the birds were trying to get in.

Solar panel facing south at 30°
In 2014, things seemed much the same, with Swifts regularly seen near the tower, but none making an entrance. At one point the battery went flat, so we resited the solar panel so that it was never in the shade and pointing in the optimal direction (south sloping 30°).

We seemed to be making little progress, so, in mid June, I popped an email to Brian Cahalane, an attraction call playing afficionado, to ask what would he do? His reply was to start playing calls at dawn and finish at dusk.

So the timer was reset to go from 5am to 12 noon and from 5pm to 10pm - this gave 12 hours of playing, we are not confident how much longer the solar panel and battery could go in a day. We had not previously played at the ends of the day for fear of disturbing local residents.

On 26th June, Bob Tonks was cycling past the tower, and he saw a Swift exiting one of the boxes (so thank you Brian and Bob). Since then we have seen Swifts entering or leaving 15 different boxes, 12 on the front and 3 on the back. Most observation has been done on the front. We saw no Swifts entering the new entrances that we had made on the back.

The only entrance in the top half of the back;
visited by swifts in 2014
We don't think there are 15 potential pairs for next year, as this was probably a small number of birds exploring their options.

One or 2 observations:

Although there are entrances at all levels on the front of the tower, Swifts only entered boxes in the top half. On the back, there is only 1 entrance in the top half, and Swifts used it. So, should we add more entrances in the top half on the back?

3 entrances with white canopies
were visited by swifts in 2014
Another thing, on the front, the paint had peeled away from the canopies above 3 entrances, turning them white. Swifts were seen entering these 3 boxes. The statistical probability of randomly choosing 3 specific boxes turns out to be about 2% - so should we paint a few more canopies white, especially in the lower half?

For the whole of July, if one loitered near the tower one would see anything between 3 and 10 Swifts in the near vicinity with some impressive screaming displays past the face of the tower. If this is a taste of what is to come, then it should be an impressive spectacle on summer evenings in the future.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Erich Kaiser's swift colony

[This may be a temporary post, as the video may disappear at any time.]
This is an inspiring video showing how Erich's Swifts trust him at close proximity, provided he does not disturb them in their space.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Band of volunteers work tirelessly to keep childhood memories alive

[It is nice when the press puts out a positive story, especially when they get their facts right. So we unashamedly reproduce this piece that appeared in the Newmarket Journal.]

With suitable nesting locations rapidly dwindling it is no wonder that our country's swift population is in decline. Recognising this problem, volunteers at Worlington are working to re-establish the area's swift population, bringing back the once familiar sight of swifts circling around the village's church.

Click to enlarge

FEATURE
BY ALISON HAYES
Pictures by Geoffrey Pieter and Judith Wakelam;

For many they will always evoke memories of childhood as they wheel, tirelessly, high in the summer skies and although the swift's stay on these shores is short the tiny birds have, for decades, been a much-loved feature of the countryside.

But now they are in need of help as numbers are declining, not least as modern buildings have fewer holes for them to nest in.

Among a group of dedicated volunteers at the forefront of the campaign to help re-establish swifts is Worlington resident Judith Wakelam.

Her interest in the tiny globe-trotting birds was first sparked more than a decade ago when she picked one up that had fallen from a nest and set about trying to find out how to care for it.

Chris Mead ©BBC
"No one could really give me any advice until I reached the British Trust for Ornithology and with the help of member, Chris Mead, I managed to rear the bird," said Judith.

Since then she has become something of an expert and the results of her hard work are evident to anyone glancing up at the sky around the tower of the village's All Saints Church which is currently full of swifts.

The tower is now home to 38 special swift nest boxes, the first of which were installed in 2009, with the first pair of swifts nesting the following year. Now there are around 20 pairs rearing young in the church.

And at her bungalow in Church Lane, Judith has not only had a special nest box installed which she constantly monitors with the help of a television camera, she also has three young swifts. the Ely Three as she calls them, which came to her via builders replacing a roof in the city, and which she has hand reared and will release on Newmarket Heath within the next few days.

Fed on wax worms and black crickets, the tiny birds appear clumsy but once they are freed they can fly, balancing on the air at up to 10,000 feet and unlikely to ever land again feeding, drinking, preening and even mating on the wing.

"They are truly remarkable birds." said Judith. "They are prompted to leave their nest by hunger as their parents will already have begun their migration so they are completely on their own.

The birds will fly to Africa in August and return to Britain to nest in April, a round trip of some 22,000 kilometres and they will return to same nesting site, which is why Judith wants to encourage churches, households and schools to install nesting boxes.

"If everyone put up just one nest box it would really help," said Judith, who is a member of Action for Swifts, an organisation which offers advice on rescue and conservation of the birds.

And as a volunteer, Judith takes calls from all over the country and beyond from people who have come across the birds and want to help them.

Hers is truly a labour of love and she is heartened that her efforts are bearing fruit. An elderly village resident came up to me recently and said I want to thank you for what you have done to get the swifts back in the church tower," said Judith. "He told me he had not seen as many birds since around 1951 when the church roof had had to be replaced and the nesting holes were blocked up."

As for the swifts, to Judith they have become part of her family. "The fact that these tiny things will leave here totally alone and fly half way round the world and back again is amazing," she said.

"And when I release one it is a moment for a few tears, one of those sad but happy moments which leaves me looking forward to welcoming them back next year." For more information on how you could provide a nesting box for swifts, contact Judith on 01638 715971 or go to actionforswifts.blogspot.co.uk



Thursday, 24 July 2014

Is 2014 really a good year?

There seems to be a general impression that this is a good year for Swifts in the UK, however, the Reporting Rate recorded by BirdTrack across the UK shows 2014 to be lower than 2013 and 2012, indeed, it seems to be the lowest ever! [Reporting Rate is the percentage of BirdTrack lists that record at least 1 Swift].

Written by Dick

BirdTrack Reporting Rate for Swifts, 2006-2008
(click on graphs to see them larger)


BirdTrack Reporting Rate for Swifts, 2012-2014
(click on graphs to see them larger)
Athough not designed for this purpose, an advantage of BirdTrack for an early indication of trends is that the data is available up to 2 years ahead of BBS. In fact it is available in near realtime!

The graphs, left, include the Reporting Rates for 2006 and for 2014.

The BirdTrack Reporting Rate for 2006 through June to mid-July (the peak season) averages 47.2%. In 2014, the reporting rate for this period averages 37.6%.

This is a decline in reporting rate of 20% in 8 years. Given that changes in BirdTrack Reporting Rate underestimate changes in abundance, this is quite a drop.

[Older graphs than this on the BTO website were calculated incorrectly - so we cannot go back further than 2006]

There could be a number of explanations for the apparent contradiction between numbers at colonies and numbers recorded by BirdTrack:

With the fine weather, it could mean that Swifts are finding plenty of food near their colonies, giving colony watchers an impression of abundance, but, as Swifts do not need to forage further afield, maybe they are seen less frequently by BirdTrack listers.

It could just be that they fly higher in good weather, so are again less likely to be seen.

Alternatively, it could be that those birds that still have their nesting places intact have had a good year, but there may be fewer intact nesting places, so birds recorded away from colonies may appear scarcer.

Another explanation is that birds from destroyed colonies are prospecting those colonies that still exist. This ties in with anecdotes from Poland, where survey data indicates increasing Swift numbers at a time when large numbers of colonies are being lost - the birds may be in the air, and visible, rather than sitting on their nests.

Whatever the explanation, it is a situation that needs watching.


Friday, 18 July 2014

Swifts do prefer boxes with concaves

There is little in the way of statistics that support what Swifts might prefer in their breeding location, so I was pleased to get this result.

by Dick
Feathers added by a pair of Swifts to a concave
Photo Judith Wakelam
Some years ago, we put 24 nest boxes in St Mary's Ely, with a concave in every other box. So 12 boxes with and 12 without a concave. When we examined the boxes a couple of years later, 10 were occupied, 7 with a concave and 3 without. So, it appeared that Swifts prefer a box with a concave. However, the probability of this being a chance result was 'high' at 10.7%

This year we put 18 new nest boxes in Worlington church, again with a concave in every other box. So 9 with and 9 without a concave. We have checked the boxes and 6 boxes were occupied, 5 with a concave and just 1 without. The probability of this result by chance is even higher at 16.7%.

Neither of these experiments passed the statisticians test for 'certainty' of 5%, but together, they do.

The probability of both of these results occuring by chance is 10.7% x 16.7% = 1.8%

So now we can be sure that Swifts do prefer boxes with concaves.

2 chicks on a concave. Photo Rob Mungovan

Not only that, but 2 of the Worlington boxes contained chicks, (as did 2 first time occupants in Landbeach church) supporting the assertion that breeding in the first year of occupancy is more likely in a nest-box with a concave.

So, on our next visits to St Mary's and Worlington we will insert a concave in all unoccupied nestboxes.



We need more experiments like this e.g.:
Dark interior versus light interior
Oval entrance versus rectangular entrance
Rough exterior versus smooth exterior
Large box versus small box

[For the technically minded, for the statistics I used the Excel HYPGEOMDIST() function.]

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Neat internal nest boxes in Nijmegen

We thought it worth reblogging 3 pictures from Jochem Kühnen's website, as they show just how unobtrusive, simple and effective built in nest-boxes can be.  Swifts are already occupying these nest-boxes.

Facade with virtually invisible entrances
Jochem says:
"I suggested several suitable nest bricks to the architects, and they went for this one. They placed 40 in the project in total, 10 in the facade where a Swift went in last week. I'm very happy with this development, this is a very busy square in the middle of the city centre, so a nice place to show people Swifts. Who knows, one day I'll go and stand there with a table with info to show passers by!"

The entrances were made by simply cutting a piece out of a brick and then positioning the Schwegler nest-box behind it



Entrance close-up
Schwegler internal nestbox

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Cambridge International Swift Conference 2014 - summary proceedings


For those who missed this conference, we have produced a summary.

The Summary Proceedings can be found on tinyurl.com/cisc2014
Image quality is better if you download it and view it as a pdf.


Thursday, 12 June 2014

A new house with 9 new Swift boxes

[Note a download containing many more pictures is available in the Downloads section on the right]
[Update July 2014: 2 of these internal oxes were occupied in this first year, one with a horizontal slot entrance through the brickwork and a second one in a vertical slot entrance]

Bob Tonks already has 4 occupied external Swift boxes on his present house in Milton. He has now built a new house in Histon with a number of internal nestboxes of various designs and entrance configurations. 

The ideas are simple, of low cost and minimal inconvenience to the builder.
The following pictures should be self explanatory, click any one to see them enlarged:

Entrance made by 2 simple cuts in one brick
The above entrance leads to a box fashioned out of an air brick liner embedded in the inner wall

Air brick liner with entrance

Although unconventional, this simple idea provides a vertical slot
The vertical slot leads to a marine plywood box embedded in the inner wall. This box has a perspex back.
Two of these plyswood boxes also have a horizontally oriented entrance
3 entrances in a gable end. All of the boxes behind these entrances are made of marine plywood and
are embedded in the inner wall.

4 neat entrances into the eaves
Eaves nestbox design

Eaves nestbox installed



Saturday, 31 May 2014

Beijing Swift movies at the Summer Palace

It is difficult to grasp the spectacle of the Swifts breeding in the Kuoru Ting pavilion, in the Summer Palace, but these two videos give you some idea:

by Lyndon Kearsley

First, Swifts flying around the outside, where ~50 pairs breed:

.
... and on the inside, where another ~50 pairs breed:


The flute player inside the pavilion was particularly loud.  Similar loud performances occur most days, but it does not seem to bother the Swifts.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Pekinensis

Back in the 80's and 90's I regularly went to China, especially in May where I led trips to Beidaihe with Tony Marr for Wildwings. These trips invariably included a trip to the Summer Palace in Beijing where one of the enduring memories was the fabulous swift colony in the Kuoru Ting pavilion by the lake. This is one of many beautiful buildings at the Summer Palace housing a swift colony, with about 100 pairs of swifts. 

by Dick Newell


Kuoru Ting pavillion, Summer Palace, Beijing. Photo Lyndon Kearsley
On a previous trip to Cape Town in January 2005, I had seen rather pale Common Swifts on Table Mountain, so I wondered, had these birds come from Beijing? 

Pekinensis Common Swift, in the sun, showing a contrasting
dark back.The underparts are also darker than the wings and tail.
Photo Dick Newell
So, when, by chance, I ran into Terry Townshend, a European bird watcher living in Beijing, at a Birdlife International event in London in December 2013, it was not long before we hatched a scheme to put geolocators on the Summer Palace swifts.

Pekinensis swifts are a bit special, they are different from our Swifts, paler, more like Pallid Swifts and their call is softer, also resembling Pallid Swift to our ear. Beijing is not far from the eastern extreme of the species' range.

After Terry's return to Beijing, and a few weeks, and a few emails later,  we had ourselves a project. By now Lyndon Kearsley, ringer and geolocator fitter extraordinaire, was signed up, as was the Beijing Birdwatching Society. BBWS has been running a project to ring the Summer Palace swifts since 2007, taking over from Beijing Capital Normal University who started this survival study in 1992.

We originally planned to take just 10 geolocators, then Susanne Åkesson, director of the Centre for Animal Movement Research (CAnMove) at Lund University gave us 20 more. The 10 turned out to be 11, so we arrived in Beijing with 31 geolocators to fit.

So, on 23rd May, we arrived in Beijing, planning up to 3 days to catch enough birds to fit 31 geolocators. The evening of 23rd was spent giving a workshop to members of Beijing Capital Normal University and the Beijing Birdwatching Society on how to fit geolocators. They all picked it up very quickly.

Lyndon holding the attention of the Chinese geolocator team Photo Dick Newell

On 24th May, at 5:00am we arrived at the Summer Palace to find the pavilion enclosed in mistnets, Swifts were already being caught on their way out. Two and a half hours later, we had deployed all 31 geolocators. This is testament to the meticulous planning, organisation and competence of the Chinese team.

Pekinensis Common Swift, with geolocator fitted, awaiting release. Photo Dick Newell

We would like to thank, first of all, Terry for making all the right contacts in Beijing and Wu Lan, from the BBWS, who has worked miracles to ensure the Chinese authorities were comfortable with the project.

For a further account, with more pictures see Terry's blogpost on birdingbeijing.com and a more complete account on Birding Frontiers also written by Terry, For an interesting account of Beijing Swifts see this film, featuring Professor Gao, who we met at the Summer Palace.

One bird of the ~50 pairs nesting inside the dome of the pavilion. Most of the birds fitted with
 geolocators were nesting here, with another ~50 pairs in the outside rim. Photo Dick Newell


Friday, 16 May 2014

Extremadura Swift Conference

This event looks well worth publicising, and they have produced a brilliant poster, which we couldn't resist posting here:


Full details of the program, in Spanish are here:
http://visitaalange.es/festival-de-vencejos-de-alange-programa/

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Swift Conference - the movie

We held the conference, and now you can watch the movie!




Read the whole story on Birdguides

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

BB eye - citizen Action for Swifts

British Birds magazine runs a feature, called 'BB eye' every month, where contributors are invited to spotlight something controversial,  something they have a passion about, or something that needs saying.

So we contributed a piece, for the May 2014 issue, about Swifts, highlighting the need for people in the building trade, as well as individuals to put up large numbers of Swift nestboxes in coming decades.

Gray Jolliffe, author and cartoonist extraordinaire of the Daily Mail communicated the message far better than any words:



You can read the whole BB eye piece here

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Retrofitted Swift boxes in a gable end

These are the neatest and most professional retrofitted internal Swift boxes we have seen.
The pictures below tell their own story, but first, in his own words:

Michael Osborne

9 neat entrances in a gable end
There are more pictures on the Read more button below
We hired the equipment - a diamond drill and 117mm dry core. All the holes were drilled from inside to out. The breakout on the outer brick face is minimal if you back the drill pressure off when nearly through. Main thing to make sure is that the drill being used has a clutch and not to use the hammer action as it damages the diamond tips of the core.

The core has a pilot bit in the centre. It's best to start the drilling off with the pilot in place then remove it once the core is started, otherwise it slows drilling down.

The entrance plates are made from 12mm exterior cement board and cut using a tile cutter blade in a standard Jigsaw. The entrance holes were cut out by drilling through with a masonry bit big enough to get the Jigsaw in to then cut out the shape. To try and avoid the birds confusing entrances, I made some of the holes semi-circle shapes. They're all 29mm by 75mm. The runways inside the tubes are made from the same material as the entrances, glued into place using Sticks Like All Weather Adhesive. 

All of the entrances and runways were sealed with a brick sealant called Stormdry prior to painting. The tubes and entrance plate assemblies were then sealed into the wall using an exterior sealant.

The pipe used is a standard 110mm (external diameter) soil pipe, available at most DIY stores.

To match the brickwork I bought a number of Sandtex tester pots and mixed them in situ on the ladder to match the surrounding bricks - adding sand to get the correct texture.
The boxes are made from 12mm marine ply and are all 450mm x 310mm internally. The internal height is 200mm apart from a few boxes which needed to be reduced in order to fit them into the space. 

All of the boxes are wrapped in insulation to try and reduce heat transfer from the loft which gets hot during the summer. The angled brackets which the boxes are screwed to the wall with are available from B&Q. I've then sealed around any gaps between the box and the wall with a gap filler. The hinged backs have an acrylic viewing panel in them which have slideable covers on the outside - just in case the loft light is turned on accidentally!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Monday, 17 March 2014

Experimental Swift brick

by Dick

In publicising this idea, it is in the spirit of encouraging people to do experiments, rather than an idea that should be rolled out extensively, not yet anyway. The idea came out of the success of the air brick liner Swift bricks at St Neots. 

Swift brick with 2 fostered Swifts. Photo Judith Wakelam
The air brick liner Swift brick has internal dimensions: width 175mm x length 200 x height 100mm.

It thus occupies a space of length 1 brick and height 2 courses of brick. We wondered about a brick of height 1 brick - would this be acceptable to Swifts?

So, we built some prototypes out of 5mm thick fibre cement board. These have internal dimensions: width 150mm x length 225mm x height 75mm.

Swift exploring a Swift brick. Photo Clarke Brunt
In 2013, we installed 6 of these on 3 houses, all of whom were playing attraction calls. We managed to get Swifts to enter 2 of the boxes at one site, and we had them clinging to the boxes at a second site.

For the experiments, we have not knocked bricks out of any walls yet, but we have installed them under eaves with a simple wooden harness.

The width of these boxes could extend across the cavity, which, in modern houses, may be as much as 100mm, allowing a box width of 200mm. Also the length could be extended to 1.5 bricks ~330mm long. This would fit well in a Flemish bond.

4 fostered Swift chicks in a Swift brick
If this idea works, it would be the easiest thing to retro-fit into a wall, and may provide least resistance in the housing trade to install many of them in new build. We feel it could be a game changer.

For anyone who would like to have a go at this, please get in touch.