Tuesday, 23 July 2019 09:04

High Barnet SOS: Save Our Swifts

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Delivery of leaflets and advice on installing nest boxes for swifts is being co-ordinated by ornithologist David Martens. From left to right, Mr Martens, Robin Bishop, Alex Coltman and Tim Friend Delivery of leaflets and advice on installing nest boxes for swifts is being co-ordinated by ornithologist David Martens. From left to right, Mr Martens, Robin Bishop, Alex Coltman and Tim Friend
Swifts swooping and squealing high overhead have always been a regular sight in parts of High Barnet, but some local ornithologists fear these summer visitors are diminishing in numbers because of a lack of suitable nesting places.

Leaflets have been distributed in streets where swifts are known to nest – including Fitzjohn Avenue, Normandy Avenue and Cedar Lawn Avenue – encouraging householders to install nest boxes.

Swifts usually arrive in the first week of May and depart for Africa around the final week of July and as in past years High Barnet residents are being encouraged to take note of sightings.

Ornithologist David Martens, who has been monitoring High Barnet’s swifts for some years, has led the leafletting drive and hopes to arrange a High Barnet swift awareness week in June next year to encourage residents to monitor the number of birds arriving and nesting.

“These iconic birds are barely clinging on in High Barnet and sadly, with only a few houses left where they can nest, numbers of dwindling rapidly from a once healthy population.”

Despite his fears for the future of these “amazing aerial athletes”, one Fitzjohn Avenue resident, Tim Friend, has seen a pair of swifts raise two chicks in a nest box fitted under the eaves of his semi-detached house.
He installed the box ready for the spring of 2018 but although the swifts swooped around it wasn’t used.

This May, once the swifts were due to arrive, he put a speaker on the upstairs window ledge and played recordings of the swifts’ call – the squealing sound that gives them their nickname “squealers” – which can be downloaded from YouTube.

To Mr Friend’s delight he saw swifts flying into the box and then the chicks emerged.

“I kept checking the box and one day last week a small face appeared. After I saw that head looking out, another fledgling flew out. It was an amazing sight and worth all the effort.

“I love to see the swifts swooping overhead in Fitzjohn Avenue. One year a swift flew into the house. I captured it in a towel and then released it outside, and it was fine.”

Four houses in Fitzjohn Avenue have had swifts nesting this year, including one house where swifts enter a small gap in the underside of the gable roof and another where swifts enter through a hole in a soffit board where the roof meets the brickwork.

“The swifts’ misfortune is that as people refurbish their houses and fit new roofs and loft rooms, they fill in gaps in soffit and fascia boards, depriving the swifts of nesting places,” said Mr Martens.

These iconic birds are barely clinging on in High Barnet...

“Swifts are faithful to their nesting sites, which they return to year after year, and if these sites are blocked off, the swifts are homeless.

“So please think about installing a nest box for swifts – all the information you need is available at www.actionforswifts.blogspot.com and details on prices for next boxes and other questions can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A newcomer to Fitzjohn Avenue, Kathryn Farrell was delighted to discover that a pair of swifts have nested this year in a small space under a soffit board at the front of her house.

“I was up in the loft the other day and heard a flapping of wings and a tweet” – enough evidence for David Martens to confirm that this was a nest for swifts.

Her next-door neighbour Robin Bishop (chair of the Barnet Society) confirmed the presence of swifts.

“Last year we found an exhausted swift – it looked like a fledgling – lying on the lawn. We followed the emergency instructions on how to keep a swift alive in a small, ventilated box and it was taken away by a swift rescue team and we were told, it was later released at Newmarket racecourse.”

Tim Friend’s success in attracting a pair of swifts to his nest box has not been repeated to the great dismay of Cedar Lawn Avenue resident Alex Coltman.

“I know two houses where swifts are nesting lower down in Cedar Lawn Avenue but so far my efforts are in vain. I have installed a nest box and did play recordings of the swifts’ calling and squealing, but no luck so far.

“The most swifts I’ve seen together this year is about 12, but a couple of years I saw around 50 congregating together before they all flew off for Africa on their annual migration – a sight to remember.”

For more information about swift sightings and nest boxes in High Barnet contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If a an exhausted swift is found, information on first aid and care, is available at www.swift-conservation.org or by contacting Deborah Lauterpacht (01763 262532) or Judith Wakelam (01638 715971)

Ms Lauterpacht, who lives near Royston, and who looked after the exhausted swift found by Robin Bishop, said she has been caring for a dozen fledgling swifts this year and hoped to release them in good health ready for their flight to Africa.

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1 comment

  • Comment Link Friday, 04 October 2019 11:18 posted by Tom

    A very worthwhile project and I do hope it works - I greatly miss the sight and sound of swifts over Barnet.

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