Important note: grounded swifts

If you have discovered a grounded swift and need to know what to do, this page on the RSPB website gives clear advice.

Flying over the garden

"Like flying anchors, these symbols of high summer have greater mastery of the air than any other bird. Swifts drink, bathe, preen, collect food and nesting material all without alighting. The night is spent on the wing and they are the only bird known to mate on the wing."
- from Birds of Britain

Of course, swifts aren't really "garden birds", as they spend all their time in the air, but as they fly over the garden on warm summer evenings, and are such welcome visitors, I have to include them - particularly after the summer of 2002, when I was privileged to meet a swift that flew into the house through an open window.

May arrivals

I don't remember noticing swifts in the first two years of gardening here, until they were pointed out to me. Now I look for them each year in early May. Or rather listen for them, as they arrive in the skies above here, usually just a couple to begin with, with their characteristic excited screech. What a fine sound.

All summer they cruise through the sky above the garden, all speed and high delighted noise. I've never seen a bird that seems so joyfully and enthusiastically alive.

A memorable encounter

One summer day I was working at the computer in the first floor study, when something flashed by me at great speed, having flown in through the top of the open sash window. It darted by me around the room several times, while I, having guessed it was a panicking bird, went to close the door so it didn't fly off down the landing. It continued its dash around the room before hitting the closed part of the other window and landing on the floor, at which point I realised it was a swift.

More importantly, I realised, a grounded swift, and from what I'd read, these can't take off by themselves, and very rarely land on solid ground. And here was one on my floorboards, apparently unharmed, if a little stunned. Not as stunned as me.

Luckily there were no cats in the room at the time. The closed door meant that none would wander in. This allowed me a few moments to think. I guessed I should open the window wide, pick up the swift and throw it into the air through the window, hoping it would then just start flying again. I then thought that flinging a swift that might be concussed from hitting the window out into the street might not be a good idea.

Grounded bird

While I was thinking all this I sat on the floorboards for a few moments next to the swift, realising that being so close to one was an unusual event - swifts generally being admired from a great distance, and not generally so close. I was saying to myself - or to it - 'What's the best thing to do, I wonder'. I didn't expect it to answer, but I always talk to birds and animals in such situations - it makes me feel better even if it does nothing for them.

The swift's plumage was beautifully sleek and brown, and its wings still open in their distinctive shape. It was, effectively, lying there with its wings outspread, looking very much out of place. You may be wondering why I didn't rush to get the camera and take a photo - there being photos of most other things on this site. I was concerned most of all about the swift, and its safety, and getting it back into the air unharmed.

Back out into the skies

I went to open the bottom sashes of both windows in the room as wide as they would open, creeping carefully around the swift, still on the floor. I then mentioned to it that both the windows were open, and that it might want to fly out of them. I'm not suggesting the swift understood me, but as I reached for it, thinking I would have to attempt the relaunching myself, it took off in an instant, heading towards the door, then turned suddenly and flew straight out of the open window, and I watched it fly off across the street. Gone in a flash, leaving me with a sense of having just experienced a once in a lifetime meeting.

Swift flying over the garden, July 2005