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NestEnders 2023

Norfolk Swifts

A guest cam from David Gittens

   A big thank you to David Gittens, who has let me share his wonderful swift nest box here on my website. I wish I had shared this story from the beginning, but we should get a few more weeks left of this little family. Thank you also for the very informative information that David has put together for this page:


"The live stream comes from 1 of 3 swift nest boxes which were installed in 2015 under the guttering eves on a north-facing wall of a 2-storey house in North Norfolk, UK.  Despite the fact that their traditional nest sites under pantiled roofs were being lost due to renovation in the area, it still took 5 years for a pair of prospecting swifts to take residence in one of them."

 UPDATE from David August 2nd 2023: 


Norfolk Swifts – Mission Accomplished 

The two Swift chicks have now fledged. The first, after 40 days in the nest, at 13:17 on August 1st and the second some 20 hours later. The parents will likely stay for a few more days, sleeping in the nest box before setting off separately on their own migration south. 

The juveniles will not return to the box but, remarkably, will start their migration to sub-Saharan Africa almost immediately – and without their parents. In fact their entire life for the next two years (all being well) will be spent on the wing – not landing again until they are ready to contemplate breeding and need to find a new nest of their own. Yes, they even sleep on the wing. 

Provided the adults survive the dangers of migration, predators and finding enough flying insects to feed on, they will likely return and meet up in this nest box again next year to raise another brood. 

This year, between them, they have brought 766 food deliveries to their two offspring, taking each parent on average 14 hours 44 minutes of foraging each day to do so. It is the long summer days that allows such long foraging periods that partly attracts them to make the 4000 mile migration to these northern latitudes. 

However, the loss of nesting sites and the reduction of insects (through the use of pesticides) is thought to be the main causes in the decline of Swift populations in the UK. Hence the reason we put up nest boxes for these remarkable but sadly now Red Listed birds. 

So, fingers crossed that this adult pair will return in mid-May next year and allow us the privilege of observing their lives in the wild. 


"A pair have nested every year since then and, this year (2023), another pair have nested in an adjacent box for the first time. The arrival of the swifts this year wasn’t without drama.  The male came into the nest box on 4th May, followed by his female mate 3 days later.  Eggs were laid on the 20th and 22nd May and the pair got down to sharing the incubation.  However, two days later another male came to the nest box and a fight ensued which resulted in the original male being evicted and the new male throwing the two eggs out of the nest.  He then bonded with the female and two more eggs were laid on 31st May and 2nd June.  These both hatched on schedule on 22nd June and are the subject of the live stream. It usually takes 38 to 42 days before the chicks are fully feathered and strong enough to fledge.  During this time both parents will feed them with insects that they catch in the air.  Several hundred insects are caught at a time and form a ‘bolas’ which they hold in their mouth before transferring it to a chick.  Together they will bring around 20 to 25 bolas feeds to the nest box each day, in the early days at least.  When the young swifts leave the nest and fly for the first time, they will not return.  In fact, and incredibly, they will start their lone migration to Africa straight away and, all being well, flying without landing anywhere for the next 2 years.  The parents start the same journey a few days later.

The species of swift seen in this nest box are Common Swift (Apus Apus).  These remarkable, fast flying birds spend their entire life outside the breeding season on the wing, catching their insect food as well as sleeping while flying.  They never perch in trees or on wires to rest. They are migratory birds, travelling from sub-Saharan Africa to the UK around May each year to breed, then returning to Africa in August once their chicks have fledged.


The name ‘Common’ is misleading in as much that they are becoming much less common in Europe and particularly the UK.  In fact they are now regarded as an endangered species and are on the Red List.


Swifts are often confused with swallows and house martins, but unlike these, Swifts appear at first glance to be all black.  They have a light patch under the chin but it is hard to see when they are flying.  They are also somewhat larger.  Male and female swifts are indistinguishable from their plumage but the pitch of their calls is slightly different. Their thin, curved wings, shaped like a sickle, allow them to fly very fast.  In fact they are the fastest bird in level flight.  The peregrine falcon flies faster but only in a dive. They can be seen flying in groups at rooftop level, screaming as they go.  


The decline in swift populations has been attributed to a number of factors but loss of nesting sites and low insect numbers due to pesticides are thought to be among the main causes.  If you would like to help swifts by providing a nest box or two on your house then you can get online advice from organisations such as Swift Conservation ( and Action for Swifts ( "


David, a bit like me, is fascinated by the lives of the birds he is filming. Having a camera like this means that you get to know the birds as individuals and the more you film, the more you learn and the more questions you have! David has collated a huge amount of information and I was delighted that he was happy to share this, so I could then share it on my site. It is SO important that we learn more about these species, especially as their numbers are falling so dramatically. This fabulous data was collected and analysed from last year's brood. It takes a huge amount of time and effort and I feel will be of great interest to lots of my followers!

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