Latin name: Apus apus swift

Length: 16 - 17cm Wingspan: 42 - 48cm

Where: Anywhere other than high mountainous areas, often in villages and towns

When: April to July

The swift is one of our briefest visitors, and all the more precious for that. Their screams are one of the most vibrant sounds of summer, as they swoop into our lives in May like Star Wars fighter jets. Swifts are consummate fliers. It’s not that long ago that some people believed they had no legs and couldn’t land at all. They do eat, sleep and mate on the wing, and land by choice only to lay their eggs and raise their young. It’s been calculated that a seven-year old bird may have flown up to two million kilometres in its lifetime. Swifts mostly nest in building cavities, into which they seem to disappear in the blink of an eye. This leaves them vulnerable to renovation work, and one of the causes of their rapid decline is thought to be the blocking up of historic nest sites.

Their black, scimitar-curved wings help distinguish them from the smaller swallows and martins. Like them they feed exclusively on insects. Our fickle Scottish weather means that they may disappear from our skies for days on end if the weather is wet. Swifts have been known to fly on round trips of up to 1200 miles to find insects beyond a weather depression. Because the chicks’ food source is unreliable they are able to survive without feeding for many days. Their temperature drops and their metabolism slows down until the parents can return with more food.

By early August the chicks have fledged and the family can make the long journey back to Africa for the winter, taking the sounds of summer with them.

Find out more at:


Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the potential for inexhaustible new discoveries.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods