Swifts are a swallow-like bird seen and heard in many parts of Islington, nesting in tiny gaps in the structure of buildings. But they are endangered, with numbers dwindling by about 50 per cent over the past 20 years, largely due to renovation and conversions destroying their nesting sites without replacement, as most new buildings are completely unsuitable for them.
They have been seen in large numbers of the area of Avenell Road in Highbury N5 for at least a couple of decades, and have recently been confirmed to be nesting at Islington Council’s art deco-style block Aubert Court (built around 1950).
Swifts are faithful to their nests and are able to return to exactly the same location year after year, despite their 10,000 mile round trip to Africa each winter, and they have been proven to live to up to 19 years.
They are very unobtrusive at their nest sites, as they are almost silent in their nest, do not leave droppings, and visit the nest only rarely with the young swiftlets able to survive alone for several days if the adult flies further afield to avoid bad weather. There will typically be only one or sometimes two swiftlets per nest.
Islington Council’s Housing Department has consulted with the Islington Swifts Group and the swifts have been noted for reference for any future maintenance work. It is illegal to disturb any active bird’s nest and the department will programme any external works to avoid the swifts season (early May to late August). Outside of the breeding season they will avoid unnecessary disturbance of the nest sites.
If anyone knows of the location of swifts’ nests in Islington or elsewhere please inform Islington Swifts Group, as they are trying to increase the data available. Records of other sightings can be submitted to the RSPB Swift Survey.
If you are lucky enough to have swifts in your own building, Islington Swifts Group can also advise on how you can renovate and retain and even increase the number of nest sites. With the council’s Planning Department, it is encouraging new-build developments to include integrated nesting bricks too.
Let’s keep swifts coming back for many summers to come.