It’s Midsummer – and the Greenwich swifts are back in town. In good numbers this year. These extraordinary birds nest in tight colonies under the eaves of suitable buildings. Extraordinary because, apart from nesting, they literally live the rest of their lives in the air, eating, drinking, mating, even sleeping, all on the wing, and all at great speed. And you can see all this happening in and over the nesting colony up in the eaves of Davy’s Wine Shop, on the corner of Greenwich High Road and Kay Way (by the red telephone booth). The swifts come back from Africa every year for 3 months, to breed here. Their numbers in the UK have fallen heavily over the last ten to fifteen years. So this year’s relative abundance of occupied nests in the Davy’s colony, and the size of the immature parties of non-breeders, the “Screamers”, is good news.
From now till the end of June and through July, the parent swifts will be incubating eggs, and feeding the hatched fledglings on the insects they catch on the wing. When they have a full load, individual parent birds shoot back up into their nests at speed. Then, after feeding their young, they drop down into the air, and power off again. They are so quick, you have to focus hard to catch them. But this year there are enough occupied nests at Davy’s to mean there’s movement into or out of a nest every few minutes.
Meanwhile, at various times of the day – late mornings seem good – the non breeders gather in small groups, or sometimes larger parties, and screech and scream close past the nests, without entering them, barrelling and twisting just overhead. These “screamers” were born here last year or the year before, and aren’t yet ready to mate . They have already made at least one journey down to Southern Africa, and one back. But some will have done this two or even three times. Amazingly, they won’t have touched ground the whole time. Watch out for the screaming parties above Davy’s in July, as they test out the nests, and the Greenwich skies, ahead of becoming parents themselves back in Greenwich next year or the year after. When they will finally, briefly, fall out of the sky. And if you do manage to see the action, wish both parents and screamers well in the first half of August, as they leave Greenwich, and head off back to Africa.