In 2017 we were asked by Tom to install some Swift boxes on a house in the centre of Wherwell. There were only two known pairs of Swifts, both in natural sites, in the whole village so the population was extremely vulnerable. One pair nests in the village pub The White Lion, and the other in the corner of the roof of a house nearby.
The one in the pub is interesting as the entry point is through a small gap in the brickwork where the power cable that feeds the light for the pub sign enters the building at first floor level. The walls are solid so the birds have the floor space to nest in. When the light was fitted, the hole that the builder drilled was not made good after the cable was fed through – don’t you just love shoddy builders?
But back to 2017, when we installed the six new bespoke Swift boxes on the front of a private property. We decided to install them in three pairs between the exposed rafters with a dividing partition between each pair, and also set up a call player to play Swift calls. Despite Swifts nesting in a natural site on the adjacent house, nothing happened at all for three whole years and we started to wonder if the boxes were a little small inside or whether the row of tall trees on the other side of the lane was deterring them. It was not until 2020 that a pair nested in Box 2 for the first time and reared two young. In 2021 the pair returned and nested, again two young reared, and by this time the number of Swifts investigating the other boxes had greatly increased.
A further box had been erected on the back of the house, and another on the side of the house in the second week of June 2021. The call speaker was moved to this box and it was occupied by Swifts the next day! In fact Swifts were seen entering six of the eight boxes in 2021 (all except boxes 1 and 6) though apart from the adult breeding pair they must have been young non-breeding birds as no other youngsters were reared. This bodes very well for 2022, and there are also plans to erect additional Swift boxes at the rear of the property this winter.
As can be seen from this story, starting a Swift colony can sometimes take several years but once the birds become accustomed to using the boxes then it can take off quite quickly. The hardest part is getting the first pair. We have put up five other boxes in the village so far but don’t think these have been used yet. During 2021 in addition to the Swifts there has been a pair of Swallows that reared two broods of young in Tom’s garage – the first brood was missed due to the unseasonally cold spring weather. Two pairs of House Martins also bred though the third brood failed perhaps as a result of a Sparrowhawk attack, one is often seen around the house. House Sparrows nested successfully in one of the House Martin nests and a pair of Great Tits reared broods in boxes 3 & 5 in 2020, though not in 2021, and have taken moss into box 2 as can be seen below.
What a fantastic achievement for wildlife on just one house. Well done Tom - now can we interest you in a Starling box?