How to find swift colonies

Swifts colonies are found in towns - if you see them over lakes or gravel pits they are feeding and their nest sites could be miles away.

If you find some low screaming or nesting swifts, they may be nesting nearby so don't forget to let us know.

Listen for screaming

Swifts spend much of the day high in the sky feeding on aerial plankton but come down to their nests on spring and summer evenings with food for their young. They forming screaming parties near their nest sites, and the best way to find them is to listen for them screaming.

Look up

The swifts approach their nests very fast and just disappear into a hole - in eaves, wall, towers, churches, and almost anywhere they can find a place at least two storeys high. So, to find their nest sites you have to look up, near buildings - often older houses and taller places.

Don't confuse similar birds

Here's how to tell the difference:

Common swift

Common swift

Common swift

  • Seen in towns
  • Dark brown/blackish
  • Flies very fast
  • Often in groups
  • High in the air unless near nest
  • Distinctive outline
  • Streamlined shape
  • Screams around buildings where nests might be

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

  • Seen in the countryside
  • Much more colourful
  • Pale underneath
  • Long tail streamers
  • Lower in the sky
  • Flaps their wings
  • Less streamlined
  • Do not scream, they twitter!

House martin

House martin

House martin

  • Seen in towns
  • Becoming more rare
  • White rump
  • Obvious nest of mud on walls
  • Fly more slowly
  • Much flapping of wings
  • Less streamlined
  • Does not scream, more a twittering sound

Sand martin

Sand martin

Sand martin

  • Seen over water
  • Seen in sand pits
  • Brown in colour
  • Pale underneath
  • Shorter tail
  • Less sleek wings
  • Less streamlined
  • Does not scream

Record your results

You can print a record sheet to take out with you - don't forget to let us know what you find when you get home.

Let us know what you find

Send us your data

Thank you! We'll use it to create a map of swift sites in our Valley