Posted 9th May 2018 by Peter Byrne
A town in Ryedale is running a campaign to encourage more feathered visitors to the area
A number of nest boxes have been put in Helmsley as part of a concerted effort to encourage swifts to make a temporary home there, prior to the bird's breeding season. The activity is being conducted by a group called Helmsley Swifts, which is looking to educate the public about Swifts, and to ensure existing nest sites are both retained and providing additional nest sites. Many of these have been lost over recent years, as roofs are replaced.
Swifts arrive in North Yorkshire in early to mid-May, as they prepare to breed. Boxes will allow breeding swifts to safely roost, laying a clutch of two to three eggs at the end of May or early June, which are incubated for around 20 days. At the end of the month, they are joined by younger non-breeding birds who are looking for sites to breed in future years but will not land. Swifts only land to nest and are subsequently adapted to a life spent 'on the wing', feeding, drinking, bathing and even sleeping in the air.
Jonathan Pomroy, a wildlife and landscape artist who started Helmsley Swifts with Ian Kibble, said: "Stand in Helmsley on a warm evening in July and you may see flocks spiralling higher and higher until they are out of sight, screaming as they go. We think that they roost at between 1-3000 metres and alternate wing beats with brief gliding periods facing into wind, which gives them lift. How they remain orientated to descend back to the same location at dawn is a mystery."
"Swifts pair for life and are the most affectionate of birds in the nest boxes, constantly preening each other and snuggling up tight. Many nests in Helmsley are located under pan tiles in the loft space and consist of material gathered entirely on the wing; feathers, bud cases and pieces of grass or straw blown into the air. To make life a bit easier for them we put some downy feathers in the nest boxes before they are put in place. These materials are glued together with saliva. When the nestlings hatch it takes about six weeks before they are ready to make their vital first flight from the nest in late July or early August. They spend periods of time exercising their wings a few days before fledging, flapping furiously or sometimes doing press ups with their wings to build up strength. They fledge, often just before dark and from this moment on they fend for themselves on their journey to the Congo area of Africa."
Image courtesy of Ian Carstairs