More than half of British Swifts have been lost since 1995, but the reasons underpinning this decline are unclear.
BTO scientists are involved in research aiming to address these knowledge gaps. Between 2010 and 2016, we deployed tiny geolocators on adult Swifts breeding in the UK to investigate where Swifts go on mitration, and identify which areas are important for them en route to Africa and once they get there. Since 2014, we have used GPS tags to study local movements during the breeding season as well as to give a more detailed picture of Swift migration. We have used our expertise to assist collaborators with their research, including RSPB, and have also exported our knowledge, for example to tag Swifts nesting in Beijing, revealing their migration routes to Africa for the first time.
Even our initial results showed just 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 five days to travel 5,000 km from West Africa back to the UK. nterestingly, 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.
Bird migration - a masterclass
Steve Portugal explains why and how birds undertake long and perilous migratory journeys.