Where Swifts Fly
Breeding, wintering and migration
Swifts have one of the longest migration journeys in the World, 22,000 kilometers (14,000 miles) every year. They fly to and from Equatorial
and Southern Africa, using
largely unknown routes. If in the late Summer or
Autumn you see Swifts heading purposefully South or South East, you are witnessing their
The map shows the breeding range in dark pink. Arriving from the South, (reaching the Middle-East in February, Naples in April, London in May) Swifts will breed within this area, but their location depends on suitable breeding and feeding sites. Cities, ruins, ancient monuments, cliffs, and quarries all provide
nest places for Swifts, and density at such places can be high. Freshwater areas with concentrations of flying insects attract masses of feeding Swifts. In
other areas Swift presence may be minimal or non-existent.
The Migration routes (in yellow) are partly assumed, partly based on observation. Swifts leave Europe as soon as they have bred. The Northern-most birds,
arriving last, will leave last. London's birds are on their way in early August, with the last leaving by the middle of the month. Further South, the birds leave even
earlier (they leave the Middle East by June). Those last to leave Europe will still be crossing the desert in November.
Winter is spent in the Equatorial and Southern parts of Africa (the blue-green area). The birds are silent, flying high and fast and covering large areas in the search for
food. They spend all their time on the wing, never landing. They are vulnerable to bad weather; there have been mass fatalities following severe
storms. Confusion with similar local species makes study of Swifts in Africa difficult, but
recent developments in electronic tracking are beginning to reap
The UK Swift population was estimated at 80,000 birds in 1990. They are thought to have decreased by as
much as 50% since then. There's just one Swift now for every
1750 UK humans.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth! The photograph (right) shows the
River Congo at Yangambi, in the very centre of Equatorial Africa.
This is where our Swifts fly during our Winter,
feasting on the rich insect life, getting fit and ready for their
return to breed in our Northern latitudes. (Photo
© Elizabeth Kearsley)
Next - Swifts Matter
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