Tracking Swifts

Tagged Swift (photo Paul Stancliffe)

A third of British Swifts have been lost since 1995, but the reasons underpinning this decline are unclear.

BTO scientists are involved in a project aiming to address these knowledge gaps.  Tiny geolocators were fitted to adult Swifts captured at the nest in summer 2010 and retrieved in summer 2011 when these birds returned to breed.  The results of this work are revealing the migration routes and important wintering areas for this species, which could help to identify key areas for Swift conservation.

Map of Swift A320

The first results show how incredible these small birds' annual journeys are.  We now know that the wintering range of individual Swifts is huge, with birds visiting several countries across Africa once they've completed their post-breeding season migration. Swifts also live up to their name, with one individual taking only 5 days to travel 5,000 km from West Africa back to the UK.  Interestingly, this bird stopped for 10 days in Liberia before embarking on this leg of its return journey, indicating the location of a previously unknown stopover site for refuelling, where conservation efforts could now start to be focused.

Read more about this project in the BTO membership magazine, BTO News, in the article ' Swifts start to share their secrets (PDF, 296.72 KB) '.