Swift (Apus apus)

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Swift (Latin : Apus apus --
German : Mauersegler -- French : martinet noir)

***** Location: Ireland and Europe
***** Season: Mid-Summer
***** Category: Animal


Swifts are one of the sure signs of the European summer. They arrive immediately after the swallows, at the beginning of May, and leave again, almost unnoticed, weeks before the swallows depart, at the beginning of August. They often fly in flocks, wheeling at high speed over the rooftops or under the clouds, screeching in chorus as they go, and are said to spend almost their entire lives flying.

The swift is more urbanised than the swallow, at least in Europe. While both happily coexist in rural Ireland, swallows lack the mud they need to build their nests in the modern city. Swifts make use of holes and crevices in buildings, and so long as sufficient old buildings offer such spaces, they will be found even in major cities.

Some years back, one of them strayed into my bathroom in Ireland, and flew round and round just below the high ceiling, in a space that was far too confined for it. After considerable time, I managed to trap it with the help of a curtain and found that, while its wings were wide and strong, it had quite rudimentary feet.

The shout of the swift is part of the height of summer in the same way that open windows are... and its disappearance is a clear harbinger of the imminence of autumn.

View from my window -- the swifts were too swift for my camera!

Text and photo © Isabelle Prondzynski


Scientific name : Apus apus

Status :
Common summer visitor everywhere except far N and W Scotland.

Habitat :
Breeds almost exclusively in buildings in towns and villages, but travels large distances to feed and can then be found almost anywhere.

Description :
Superb fliers and the most ariel of birds. All dark except for whitish chin (hard to see), and best told by its characteristic scythe shaped wings, and its screaming calls, often in small parties wheeling around buildings. Unlike swallows and martins, never lands on ground or perches on wires, and indeed spends almost all its life on the wing.

Size :
16 - 17 cm


Worldwide use

Czech Republic

The trials of the Common Swift - bird of the year in the Czech Rep
By Jan Velinger

Over the last couple of days we've seen one of the first signs of autumn here in Prague, as swifts have started gathering for their annual migration to the south. But for how much longer will this annual ritual continue? The common swift has been chosen this year by the Czech Ornithological Society to be the subject of its annual Bird of the Year campaign to heighten a growing threat to the swift's traditional habitats.

In Latin it's known as Apus apus - the Common Swift. It's an acrobatic and feisty bird - easily recognisable for its characteristic screech that you often hear in the spring and early summer months.

The swift is no stranger to Czech cities, as the breed favours nesting under the eaves of apartment buildings or even within building themselves. Pavel Vasak is from the Czech Ornithological Society. He explains how the bird developed new habits in reaction to changing trends.

"After 1989 the majority of cities in the Czech Republic - especially Prague - began seeing extensive reconstruction of old buildings in very poor shape. The repairs of facades and roofs, however, meant that the birds' nesting choices eventually grew limited, which eventually influenced the species to begin nesting in ventilation shafts in pre-fabricated apartments. Today, that has proven to be a bad choice."

Setting up home within ventilation shafts is a habit that has now put the birds at threat. There have been many cases of birds being holed up, trapped inside ventilation shafts with access routes cut off.

The danger to the swift is one reason the Ornithological Society chose the bird for its 2004 campaign in the first place, and in part thanks to the campaign the society along with the Ministry for Regional Development, City Hall, and members of the concerned public,have been able to put pressure on construction firms to respect the birds' habitat, and rebuild in such a manner as not to put the species at continued threat. Pavel Vasak again:

"In past years our experience with construction companies was not that positive. But since last year we began co-operating with the Ministry for Regional Development and City Hall - that has made the difference. Construction firms - and the public - are now more aware of the needs of the swift and what needs to be done - and can be done - to help the bird's habitat survive."

In primeval times swifts used to nest in cracks and crannies on the sides of natural cliffs but their choosing man-made structures for nesting goes back to ancient times too - to the first stone structures and villages ever built by man. That set-up proved successful for millennia: the Czech Ornithological Society will do every thing within its power to makes sure that set-up continues.




martinet noir

More photos here, and a write-up of the swift (martinet noir) in French :

With a wonderful photo :




Beautiful pages at the URL below, with photos taken by Erich Kaiser, who loves, researches and accommodates swifts in the gables of his house. The write-up is in German, but following the pages from 1 to 8, you will see a fascinating series of photos of swift fledgelings, from hatching all the way to stretching their enormous wings and getting ready for their first flight -- which they must succeed, as they could not manage to take off again if they fall to the ground.

Things found on the way

birds nest soup

a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.
A few species of swift, the cave swifts, are renowned for building the saliva nests used to produce the unique texture of this soup.

The edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans. The nests have been used in Chinese cooking for over 400 years, most often as bird's nest soup.

The Chinese name for bird's nest soup, yàn wō (燕窝), translates literally as "swallow's nest". When dissolved in water, the birds' nests have a gelatinous texture used for soup or sweet tong sui. It is mostly referred to as "yan wo" unless references are made to the salty or sweet soup in Chinese cuisine.
© More in the WIKIPEDIA !

bird's nest―
a cave swift delicacy
in my bowl

- Shared by Santíago Víllafanía, Philippines -
Joys of Japan, 2012


balmy day --
balcony seat under
swiftless skies
(15 September 2005)

high above
in the blue morning sky --
the first two swifts

evening sky --
a cloud of swifts
mills about
(both 3 May 2006)

swifts have gone --
will I be back next year?
warm autumn night

(5 August 2006)

all at once --
a sky full of

(4 May 2007)

evening sky --
full of jasmine
and swifts’ wings
(20 June 2007)

fading daylight --
the last swarm of swifts
more heard than seen

(15 July 2007)

Isabelle Prondzynski


bedtime -
darting swifts
play tag

© ~ joanie


evening -
some swifts in and out
of a train's sound

© ~ O.G. Aksnes


noisy swifts spiral
into the old church chimney
as evening air cools

© ~ Pardee A Gunter



a traveller
in time and space
common swift rush by

Curtesy of © Ashi

Related words

***** Swallow (tsubame, Japan)


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