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Lots more Swift boxes in Winchester

Trussell Crescent in Weeke, Winchester, is home to one of largest Swift colonies in the city. The Crescent, owned by Winchester City Council, consists of 76 flats or maisonettes.

When Catharine Gale and Tim Norriss of Hampshire Swifts first surveyed the Crescent in the summer of 2018, we were struck by the number of Swift screaming parties hurtling over the back of the 3-storey Crescent. After careful watching over several days, we were thrilled to discover 20 nest sites in 16 locations.

Holes in brickwork where pipes removed
Holes in brickwork where pipes removed

All these Swift nest sites were at the back of the Crescent. A few pairs of Swifts were using holes in the soffits to access a flat place to make their nest. But most Swifts had chosen more perilous nest sites - small holes in the brickwork created when pipework – perhaps overflow pipes – were removed. These holes lead across the brickwork cavity and presumably eventually under the floors of some of the flats. It is impossible to know how successful Swifts have been in rearing chicks to the fledging stage in such conditions, or how safe these nest sites are for the adult birds, but it seems likely that at least some perish, unable to find their way out.

Since 2018, the number of potential Swift nest sites in Trussell Crescent has fallen because many of the holes the birds used have been blocked up either with mortar or with pieces of solid piping. To save the colony and enable it to expand, Hampshire Swifts suggested to Winchester City Council that nest boxes should be installed. We are delighted to report that Winchester City Council were fully supportive of this proposal and agreed to fund 36 nest boxes. It was decided that double nest boxes would look best and would make installation easier.

Roger doing the hard work
Roger doing the hard work

On 11th May 2023, Hampshire Swifts installed these 18 new double nest boxes across the front of the Crescent. It was a perfect morning for it: Swifts were wheeling and occasionally screaming overhead, and it was wonderful to watch several pairs of Starlings, who also nest in the holes and crevices of Trussell Crescent, flying to and fro, attending to their chicks and removing newly hatched eggshells.

An active Starling nest hole in the soffit
An active Starling nest hole in the soffit

While there we spotted two Swifts entering or leaving their nest sites via the brickwork holes at the back of the Crescent. We hope it won’t be long before Swifts start taking up residence in the new nest boxes in preference to those holes. Trussell Crescent was already a wonderful place to experience the thrill and excitement of Swift screaming parties in June and July, but as the colony expands, those screaming parties should become even more spectacular. Our thanks to ecologist Zoe Keeble of Winchester City Council for making this possible. And to Roger Maynard of course for all his hard work.

Seven of the double Swift boxes
Seven of the double Swift boxes

Double M30 Swift box
Double M30 Swift box

It will be important to ensure that when these two blocks have their roofs repaired and insulated in a few years time by WCC, that the Starlings are not forgotten and that provision is made for them by cutting holes in the soffits and having dividers fitted to the ends of the rafters. So easy and cheap to do to help during the ongoing biodiversity catastrophe in this country watched over by our negligent government.

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