Swift Project

by StMichaels Office

Swift Project

2019 was a strange year for Swifts all over the country and Chagford's birds were no exception.

We kicked the Swift year off early with the fitting of wildlife cameras into two of the nest boxes. The aim of these was to share the secret lives of these birds. Any visitors to St. Michael’s would, via the two camera feeds and monitor, be able to get a privileged peak into the dark recesses of the bell tower and see a very secret side to the lives of the birds which bring such energy to the summer skies over Chagford. These permanent cameras were also rigged to a recorder, that was triggered by any motion in the nest boxes - giving us a moving image record of all the comings and goings and activities within the nest

Some of the birds arrived in our skies in May and very quickly there was activity in the nest boxes there was evidence that all was not well, with several eggs that were laid being kicked out of nest cups - this was in-line with swift behaviour recorded elsewhere in the country and the addled eggs are thought to be the result of fighting. Swifts pair for life or until one of the pair dies and one theory for the early unrest is that some birds returned before their regular partners, due to difficult weather conditions. When one half of a pair then settle with another and the rightful partner finally turns up …well you can imagine. Fights ensue and eggs are scattered.

When the birds finally settled down - some were fitting in with the expected calendar of events while others were very late - with birds hatching mid-July at about the same time that others were fledging the nest. But despite the protracted season we definitely had 10 chicks fledge from 5 nests while several other boxes showed early season nest building and one abandoned clutch of eggs, possibly the work of young ‘beginners’ thinking of settling down but maybe also victims of the unsettled weather and unpredictable season - only time will tell.

On the 20th July all of the chicks still in the nest plus two adult birds incubating were fitted with British Trust for Ornithology rings by Malcolm Burgess - this will give us some idea of which birds turn up again and also it will be interesting to see if there is any transference with other Swift nest box schemes in the South West, particularly a long running project in Drewsteignton led by Nick Dixon.

2020 should be a good year for us. Funding is being secured to provide 2 more cameras and a stand for a more permanent monitor we should have any of 2019’s technical issues well and truly ironed out. The Chagford Swift Project has also had very positive inspirational effects - with at least 4 other churches in various stages of turning their church towers into Swift nesting structures.

Look to the skies for the first of our scimitar winged friends as they return around the beginning of May.


[1] Due to technical issues the recorder failed to record any of the details. The live feed, however feed worked beautifully - so we could all enjoy watching the birds on the TV.

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