COMMON SWIFT (Apus apus)

Martinet noir

apus_apus_01.jpgOne of the real sounds of summer for me is the wild screaming of flocks of swifts as they chase each other around the skies. This is another species that has adapted it's cliff dwelling nature to human habitation, and now can be found nesting most frequently beneath the roofs of tall, usually old buildings, like chateaux, church towers or large farm buildings - hence Switzerland is a great place for swifts and their sound a feature of many villages.

However you've go to be quick, they are only here for a few short weeks - the first arrive from their African winter quarters in mid-April and they begin to leave again by the end of July.

It is one of the fastest fliers of all our birds, feeding at great heights taking some of the smallest of insects and specialising on those which may have been caught in thermals and updraughts. They cover vast distances in the sky during the course of a day - packing up to 300 insects in a small throat pouch and dashing back to their nests to feed the young. Wherever it goes the Swift is always in a hurry to get there.

The secret of their speed lies in their long scimitar-shaped wings. The innermost bone is a very short one allowing for a very distinctive twisting movement as they fly. This structure is similar in humming birds and kingfishers who are their closest relatives (NOT the swallows and martins of similar behaviour - very confusing !).

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Their aerial displays are wonderful, a flock of up to 10 or 20 individuals will chase screaming crazily at each other - no one is really sure what is going here but it seems to happen about half an hour after their first feed of the morning, but mostly in an evening before going to roost. (these birds are so effective at flying that they will roost and even sleep on the wing). Their screams, and if you are close enough the noise of their wings, are amazing.

Here is a rather longish file of 4 separate sequences of birds at dawn flying around and around the farm buildings in which they nest, if you listen carefully, in addition to the characteristic screams you can hear their fluttering wings and also the buzzing vibration of the feathers as they pass at high speed.

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