A screaming success

Outdoor Living

SWIFT BY NATURE Swifts can reach speeds of around 130mph.

Mayo swift population on the rise

Swifts are extraordinary birds. They really have the ‘wow’ factor. When Lynda Huxley, of Swift Conservation Mayo, gives talks at schools, she finds that the children are mesmerised by the the story of this amazing bird. Especially when they learn that swifts eat, drink, preen and sleep on the wing, and that they can fly as fast as a Ferrari!
It’s impossible not to be impressed when you learn that they are are the fastest bird in Ireland’s skies. As Lynda explains, “Swifts look fast and they are; they can reach speeds of around 130mph when flying around in one of their ‘screaming parties’.” (These screaming parties are when up to 20 swifts gather in flight around their nesting area, calling (screaming!) out and being answered by nesting swifts. Larger screaming parties are formed at higher altitudes, especially late in the breeding season.)
Another amazing fact about them is that swifts never land except to breed. They fly about 500 miles a day, which means they any easily fly from Castlebar to Dublin and back in a single day. This is really useful for them, because on a wet, windy day here, when there are few insects flying around, they can fly off to somewhere where the weather is better. Interestingly,  one of their favourite foods is midges – hurrah!

Schools helping swifts
In 2021, Swift Conservation Mayo was granted €3,400 in funding from the Heritage Council for the project ‘Swift Conservation at Schools in Co Mayo’. This involved building nest boxes into the walls of new classrooms at several schools to ensure the future of the county’s swifts. The funding provided covers the cost of 80 nest boxes.
An online Zoom talk took place on Sunday evening, August 22, in which Lynda gave details about the project to mark National Heritage Week 2021. But if you missed it, don’t worry – her fascinating talk is now available on the Swift Conservation Ireland channel on YouTube.
The swift is a red-listed bird of conservation concern, having seen a decline in numbers in across Ireland of over 40 percent. In Mayo, however, we are seeing an upturn in the fortunes of the swift thanks to Swift Conservation Mayo’s nest-box projects.
There are over 50 nest box projects throughout the county, and whilst the initial nest boxes were externally mounted, Swift Conservation Mayo are now concentrating their efforts on locations where they can build nest boxes into the walls of new buildings as they are being constructed.
Great examples of these built-in nest boxes can be seen in Westport Town Hall, where 12 were installed in 2015, all of which are now being used by swifts. The built-in nest boxes provide a long-term secure nest site for Swifts for the life of the building, which will hopefully be 50 years or more.

Positive story
The swift project has really proven to be a great project for schools, especially Green schools. Swift Conservation Mayo has been busy liaising with several schools in the county that are currently carrying out building work, and supplying them with nest boxes. These schools include Partry’s St Mary’s NS, Ballina’s Quay NS and Balla Secondary School. Heritage Council Funding will also go towards boxes in Mayo Abbey NS; Newport NS; Holy Trinity NS, Westport; Ballinrobe Community School and Ballina Scoil Iosa.
Other schools that the organisation has worked with include Sancta Maria College, Louisburgh; Mount St Michael, Claremorris; St Louis Community School, Kiltimagh; St Angela’s NS, Charlestown; and Ballinrobe NS.
“Swift Conservation Mayo started installing nest box projects ten years ago with financial support from various sources, including Mayo County Council grants, Heritage Council grants and private donations,” Lynda explains. “We are now seeing the fruits of our efforts, with an increase in the Mayo nesting Swift population of 20 percent and growing. It’s a real positive success story.”

For more information, see www.swiftconservation.ie, where the booklet ‘We are Swifts, We are in Trouble’ is also available as a pdf.