Skip Navigation

Swift (Apus apus)

Except when on the nest, swifts spend their whole lives, even sleeping, on the wing.

Common name: swift

Scientific name: Apus apus

Family: Apodidae

Appearance

Body: dark all over, with pale throats. Swifts have very short legs and never settle voluntarily on the ground, preferring vertical surfaces

Wings: narrow, scythe-shaped wings  

Not to be confused with

Swallows, house martins and sand martins are other summer visitors which can be easily confused with swifts.

Where to spot

Low over meadows or high over buildings. Look for groups of screaming birds dashing between buildings, or almost invisible high specks swooping after insects in the dusk. A summer visitor arriving in late April to early May and leaving from late July to August onwards.

Feeding

They feed on insects, swooping down to gather them in the dark.

Breeding

In abnormally cold weather swifts may throw out complete clutches of eggs from their nests. They nest in cracks in masonry or on rafters. Swifts use the same nest year after year, merely adding fresh material, which is caught in the air.

Facts

  • By sleeping with half of its brain at a time, the swift lives a perpetually aerial life, coming down only for a short period each year to breed.
  • A young swift can be hundreds of miles south to African winter quarters 48 hours after leaving the nest
  • For their size swifts are long-lived, and individuals up to 21 years old are on record
  • Swifts are superficially similar to swallows but are actually not closely related to them at all

Join Nature’s Calendar

Help us track the effects of weather and climate change on wildlife. Let us know what's happening near you and see your sightings on the map.

Start recording