Oxford Swift City takes flight

The Museum is really pleased to be a partner in Oxford Swift City, a major new initiative to protect and nurture the city’s populations of swifts. Here Keo Baxendine at RSPB Midlands tells us more about the project…

Swift expert George Candelin shares his experience of researching the swifts at the Museum. Image: Colin Wilkinson.

The swifts have just returned to the UK after their long migration from Africa. At the Museum they have begun circling the tower where they nest each year.

These charismatic birds, Apus apus, are commonly recognised throughout the UK as a sign of summer. They also have a long cultural association with Oxford as a symbol of knowledge and dexterity. Yet sadly, the national swift population has fallen by 42 per cent since 1994, due to a lack of nesting sites and food.

The Oxford Swift City project hopes to turn the birds’ fortunes around by protecting existing swift nesting sites as well as encouraging the creation of new ones. Last night, project partners and guests gathered at the Museum to kick off the project.

The swift is an iconic species whose appearance announces the start of summer. Sadly the swift is in trouble. Numbers have dropped dramatically, putting the birds at risk of disappearing completely from the UK. The Oxford Swift City community project provides local people with a great opportunity to learn about this important bird and discover how to take action to help give swifts a home in Oxford.
– Lucy Hyde, Oxford Swift City Project Officer

Swift chicks in a nestbox in the Museum tower, shown on the webcam feed

There are lots of ways to get involved: take part as a swift survey volunteer; help out at a community event; or just put up a nestbox or plant wildflowers in the garden. You can also join a local swift expert on a number of ‘swift walks’ through Oxford over the summer.

The colony of swifts which nests in the Museum has been the subject of a research study since 1948, and is one of the longest continuous studies of a single bird species in the world. This work has contributed much to our knowledge of the swift.

Fittingly, Oxford Swift City is running a ‘Swift Tower’ design competition. Subject to approval, the winning design will be constructed in Oxford next year, providing ideal nesting spaces for swifts – so get scribbling!

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the RSPB-led Oxford Swift City project is supported by many local partners, including Oxford University, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Oxford City Council, Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre, Environment Resources Management and the local Wildlife Trust.

For more information please email oxfordswiftcity@rspb.org.uk.