Swift Box Making at St Benedict’s Church

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) | 2021 | Northampton

Swift Box Making at St Benedict's Church

Volunteers made a total of eight swift boxes and nest cups which will be installed at the top of the church tower in April, ready for the swift’s return to Britain in May.

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In June last year, Nicola Clarke and Ross Bray from the idverde/RSPB Midlands Partnership visited Rev Griff Griffiths and Richard Warr at St. Benedict’s Church, Northampton to survey the church for the potential of installing swift nesting boxes on the belfry tower.

The Midlands idverde/RSPB Partnership is running a project with other churches and community groups within the Midlands area to install as many swift boxes as is possible in order to support a declining, red-listed migratory bird.

The worrying decline of swifts

Swifts have suffered a 58% decline in 25 years (1993-2018), mainly due to a lack of viable nesting sites on their return to the UK after migration of up to 7000 miles.

As buildings and structures are modernised, swifts find it impossible to gain access to the small holes, gaps and nooks in roofs, walls and cavities. Swifts have become used to nesting in man-made structures and have done so for at least 2000 years. As new building methods and materials are developed, the swift is being left homeless.

About the project

The survey confirmed that the church tower, its layout, structure and aspect, would greatly lend itself to an installation of swift boxes which would be beneficial for the church, community and most importantly the swift population in the area to boost their numbers.

Swifts prefer to nest at height, in concealed places away from disturbance. The narrow louvre system in the tower provides ideal places to fit boxes, however, these were difficult to access. It was, therefore, agreed that the best option was to install the nest boxes on the outside of the church, at the very top of the tower on the outer platform. Although not as many boxes could be installed, this option would greatly reduce the need to drill into interior brickwork or wooden window frames. The position of these boxes on the roof will allow swifts easy access and at greater height.

Swifts are colony breeders, meaning they nest together in pairs of 2-20+. If the breeding habitat is suitable and the nesting sites provided, large colonies can accumulate. Swifts are one the cleanest of all British breeding birds and make very little or no mess from whitewash or droppings.

The nesting boxes require little if any annual maintenance; once in situ they should last many years and will not need to be cleaned out each year. To speed up the process of building a colony and help the project succeed, an electronic swift calling device will also be put in place when the boxes are installed. The swift calling devices are designed to encourage the birds to investigate the newly installed boxes and work best when played early mornings in Summer and late evenings. They are not loud (about the same volume as a mobile phone) and replicate natural bird songs, so will blend in with birds already singing. From the ground, these callers are rarely heard due to the sound emanating upwards and traffic/human noise at the ground.

“Thank you both so much for your involvement (the nest box making event) I thought it went brilliantly, the following day those who helped make boxes, were showing them off to the rest of the congregation and our Bishop, with lots of excitement of what they did.” Rev. Griff Griffiths Vicar St Benedict’s Church, Northampton.
“It is brilliant to have Rev. Griff and members of his congregation on board helping with the plight of swifts - which is one of our most loved summer migratory birds. The passion and vision of the volunteers is so heartwarming. We hope that our efforts will be rewarded over time, when the swifts start to colonise the nest boxes and make St Benedict’s their home.” Nicola Clarke idverde Midlands Development Manager.