Back in September of last year I gave a talk to the Alresford Society about Swifts and how we can help them. It was actually a joint talk, with Kim Boog from the Barn Owl Project talking about owls. Kim brought along an adult Barn Owl that could not be released due to injury – definitely the star of the show!
That led to Hampshire Swifts making a grant application to New Alresford Town Council for some funding towards putting up some Swift boxes in three clusters close to where Swifts already nest. One was an area near a building that is known to have Swifts nesting in natural sites so it shouldn’t be too hard to attract them to the boxes using a call player.
And the other two areas were where I knew that Swifts had already started to nest in boxes provided, so putting up more boxes there should have a fairly rapid colonisation rate.
In one of those areas there are two boxes on the front of a house, both of which are used by Swifts (and House Sparrows). The lady who put them up a few years ago put up one first and then, just before she moved house, she paid for another one to be erected next to it as she’d been so concerned about the rapid decline of Swifts in her area. So she never saw the second box being rapidly occupied the following year – or these extra boxes going up.
So we added three more on the north wall …
...and two more on each of the adjacent houses!
In all we put up 20 boxes in the three areas and one call player. A grant of £433 was gratefully received from New Alresford TC and the balance will be paid for from Hampshire Swifts funds. Our grateful thanks are due to New Alresford Town Council and to Town Councillor Andy Sprott for very helpful advice on funding opportunities which has enabled this great community project to happen.
And while in Alresford we chatted with Jonathan Cranfield, an ecologist who had a second pair of Swifts nesting last year on his house. He said that late in the season he surveyed his boxes at night using a thermal scope that he uses for bat surveys. The heat signature after dark from birds in the boxes is really distinct.
It would be necessary to ask the home owners permission of course before pointing a thermal scope at their house but what a great way to engage folk and to speed up surveying to tell if a box is being used. Of course it can’t distinguish what birds are using the box but at the end of June/early July it would quickly show which boxes were not being used and almost certainly throw up some surprises. Jonathan’s scope was over £2,000 to buy.
We are investigating whether cheaper models would work as well for our purposes.