|The common swift spends almost its entire life
in the air. This bird lives up to its name as its long crescent shaped wings
take it to high speeds to catch flying insects. The common swift spends the
winter in Africa, and it can be seen in europe and parts of Asia from may
to July. Although not related, the swift is sometimes compared to the swallow
family because of its agility in flight and its habit of nesting on buildings.
Habits: The common swift feeds in flight and spends most of its nights in the air. It even drinks and bathes without alighting on the ground, landing only to nest or to rest on high perching places. At dusk, noisy flocks utter shrill screams as they circle upward for a night in the air. With its long, pointed, stiff wing feathers, the swift is well adapted for flight. It hardly uses its tiny legs and feet. But it has strong, sharp claws that enable it to cling to vertical rock faces or walls. In this way the bird can rest on its migratory flights between Africa and Europe. The common swift's flight combines short glides with very fast wing beats. The bird can move one wing faster than the other. This ability serves as an important means of steering, since the tail is to short to be an efficient rudder on its own.
The common swift has an average cruising speed of about 25 miles per hour, which is much faster than that of swallows and martins. As a result, the swift can nest in towns and cities, even though flying insects are scarce there. The swift simply travels widely over the surrounding countryside to find its airborne prey. Not only are swifts frequently more numerous in cities than swallows, but as a group they are now probably more numerous than they were when Europe was largely covered by forests. One reason is that buildings provide many more nesting provide many more nesting sites than the cliffs where they formerly nested.
Migration: In August the common swift leaves Europe to spend the winter in Africa. It returns in April and breeds from May to July. The short breeding period is time for only one brood. Although the young start the long flight to Africa soon after leaving the nest, common swifts are less likely than many other bird species to die in their first year.
Food & Feeding: The common swift feeds on flying insects, catching most of them in the air at high speeds. It stretches open its tiny bill, which acts as a funnel to draw in the insects. It can store the insects it catches in a throat pouch to take back to the nest to feed its young.
Breeding: Common swifts mate in flight, after which they build a nest on a flat surface, either in a crevice on a cliff, in a hole in a wall, or under roof eaves. The nest is a shallow cup of plant materials and feathers that the birds cement with sticky saliva from their special glands. The female lays two or three eggs, which both adults incubate.
The young are often left uncovered while the parents seek food, but they can survive low temperatures by becoming sluggish to save energy. The fledging period depends on the supply of food. In bad weather the young may not fly until they are eight weeks old. When the young leave the nest they must be self sufficient and able to fly for long stretches, as they will be migrating soon. The fledgling may spend several weeks in the nest before it is fully independent.
Did you know:
Relative Species: There are more
than 80 species of swift, including the familiar chimney swift, Chaetura
pelagica, of North America.
Identifying the Common Swift:
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