Saturday, 8 October 2011

Swifts in Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire

Contributed by John Willis

Our project began in January 2011 when Rob Mungovan, the South Cambridgeshire District Council Ecology Officer, gave a very interesting talk to Fulbourn Forum on the work that was being undertaken to maintain a swift colony during the redevelopment of the Windmill Estate in Fulbourn. 

St Vigor’s Church: swifts nested above the clerestory windows
This colony is being monitored by professional ecologists during the redevelopment but there was little information available on numbers of swifts elsewhere in the village, so we were inspired to set up a small survey group for the 2011 season.

There was good general awareness about swifts in the village because of the size of the above colony (72 active nests in 2009) and the publicity generated by a feature in the BBC programme Inside Out East, broadcast in October 2009. The new housing development is called The Swifts and the name is also used for the new Parish rooms where the Community Library is based.

Many people were aware that in previous years swifts had frequented the area around St Vigor’s Church and the Old Manor House, which is a few hundred yards away to the east.
A few evenings of observation in May quickly confirmed that there were swifts screaming and flying low around the eaves and the roof of the Church. Apart from the areas already mentioned, we had not seen swifts flying around the roof tops elsewhere in the village, so we observed the Church colony over an extended survey period between 18th May and 20th August.

Most fine evenings we took up our positions in the Churchyard for at least the last hour before nightfall and sometimes up to two hours. It was soon evident that the main activity was on the north side of the Church and over a period of weeks we observed swifts ‘inspecting’ the eaves under the main roof over the clerestory windows at some 12 locations. As the weeks went by it became obvious that there were three nests under the eaves. Feeding activity stopped at these nests by the end of July and presumably young birds had fledged, although we were not lucky enough to see them. Around this time we became aware of two birds regularly swooping in over the vestry roof to enter the eaves at a location that we could not directly observe. Although most birds had left by the end of July, this pair continued feeding right up until 20 August.

Although there was good activity around the colony between mid-May and the end of July there were two periods of increased roof level flying by screaming parties in late June/early July and again in mid-July. The latter was the peak period for general swift activity with a maximum of 26 birds seen flying together on the 11th and with most screaming parties observed on 14th and 15th. The last evening with a good number of birds and a lot of screaming activity was 24th July and after that the numbers dropped away.

Also, we were grateful to be given access to observe the swifts around the Old Manor House on a number of occasions and we believe that there were between four and six nests under the eaves there. Fifteen birds were seen flying overhead on 3 June and it is possible because of the proximity that birds from the Church and the Old Manor form one flying group.

Our Village Feast was held on 26th June, one of the hottest days of the year, and we invited Dick Newell, Jake Allsop and colleagues to join us on the Fulbourn Forum stand. They brought along a variety of nest boxes to display and sold copies of the small book ‘I am a Swift – I am in trouble’. There was plenty of interest in the boxes and we intend to follow this up with publicity during the winter so that we have more in place ahead of the 2012 season.

During the summer we found 11 existing boxes at five different locations in the village, but as far as we are aware none were used during 2011. In late June, using the swift calls CD, birds were successfully attracted to a new nest box that was made in the village and installed on a house in Cow Lane. Hopefully they will return to breed in future years. A village resident inspired by the display of boxes at the Feast made his own three storey box, which he installed on his house gable end, but he was unable to attract swift interest despite playing the CD.

In 2012 we are planning to undertake a swift project with Fulbourn Primary School, which will include trying to attract swifts to two boxes that they have already installed.

If any Fulbourn residents reading this would be interested in putting up a nest box or taking part in the 2012 survey then please contact us at

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