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Totton – another small colony safe

I was told a few days ago about a house in Totton, near Southampton, which has Swifts nesting naturally in the eaves (third house from the left in photo below). I’m told by a local that they have nested in this house for at least 60 years. The house has recently changed hands and the previous owner loved her Swifts. The new owners have just had plastic fascias and soffits fitted which will exclude the birds from their natural sites. Nothing new there as it is a huge business and has been happening in many parts of the country for at least the last 25 years. This is how colonies can quickly be lost! So I called in the following day to chat to the new owners to see if they would be happy to have boxes on their house and the nice lady said that they would and will be in touch in the New Year. Great result.

Luckily Swifts also nest on their neighbour’s property to the left and the owners there also love the birds. When originally constructed, the houses had open eaves and they have deliberately not had soffits installed as they don’t want to lose the Swifts that nest there. Hopefully we can also persuade some of the other neighbours to have boxes too and we’ll be able to watch the population grow once again. Sometimes it can take time for the birds to switch to using the boxes rather than accessing their nests in the gap at the top of the brickwork but once they do then it’s problem solved and another colony saved. Last summer there were about thirty Swifts overhead so this is an important colony and just serves to show that the danger these days is often when houses change hands. These houses look to be the oldest in the road and were probably built long before the others.

As I drove away through the neighbouring estate (above), which looked as if it had been built around the 1960s as a council estate I saw just one property that had not had plastic fascias and soffits fitted to replace/overclad the timber ones that had been used when the houses were built. Not much chance of there being any Swifts nesting there now but I wonder what it used to be like.

There is another group of nests shown on SwiftMapper near to Abbotswood Junior School to the south, where the houses look as if they were built in the 80s-90s and have pantile roofs. I suspect, though I might be wrong, that the Swifts nest behind the verge at the apex of the gable.

The RSPB, BTO and Rothamsted Research have confirmed in a recent paper that despite marked declines in aphid biomass across much of S and E England since the 1970s they could find no association between aphid biomass and Swift demography. They have also confirmed that adult survival rates have not changed in the period studied. And that fledging rates have not changed significantly.

So it's odd that a BTO scientist said to me this summer that he couldn’t understand the decline if it was purely loss of nest sites as there must be tens of thousands of unused nest sites around the country! I wonder where they might be…

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