Swifts resting during recovery
of a Carer's Clinic Photos
Swifts, almost ready to fly away
found a fallen Swift..... So don't delay!
Put it in a warm, safe, calm environment -
ventilated cardboard box (like a shoe box) is ideal
Assess its weight, age and condition (for how to do
this see below...)
DO NOT FEED IT until you have received specialist advice
from one of our carers (see contacts list below)
Give it water by putting drops on its beak with a Baby
DO NOT THROW IT INTO THE AIR - this may seriously injure
or kill it
please read on for the details.... Thanks!
a relatively low accident and mortality rate, compared to other birds their size, but sometimes things go wrong and they fall to Earth. The
reasons for this are usually:
- the nestplace has been destroyed by roofers or builders
- the nestplace is too hot and a chick jumps out
- starvation - the nestling is desperate for food
- accidents - the nestling just falls out
- failure of their first flight
- overweight at time of first flight
soaked with torrential rain / dehydrated / starving
Can one do anything to help? Yes! First - check the Swift's condition
- Is the Swift an adult (dark brown bird with a pale chin) or a juvenile (much paler looking with white borders to its head and back feathers)?
- Are its wings, when closed, longer than its tail feathers by at least 1.5cm? If so it's ready to fly, but first check its weight.
- Does it move its wings symmetrically or is one much less mobile than the other, or displaced? If damaged the chance of it ever
flying is remote.
- What does it weigh? Adults should weigh between 35 and 45g, juveniles ready to fly 40 to 45g.
is essential for the carer to know what to do. Weigh the Swift in a cardboard box on a letter scale.
Then weigh just the box and subtract the latter from the former, giving the Swift's weight.
this chart of average weights at given ages. These weights can vary by
10% either way depending on the abundance of
flying insects. Any bird with a significantly lower weight
should be treated first with fluids until the system is fully rehydrated
and faecal matter expelled. Only then may it be given very small and
NB If the Swift
is heavier than 45 grams, it's a juvenile, not yet ready to fly.
Keeping it a couple of days somewhere cool and quiet without food (but offering
it water) until it slims down to 45g may be all that is needed for it to fly.
Otherwise - read on!
Hand-rearing of Common Swifts" - download this article by
Hilde Matthes & Gillian Westray. It gives detailed care instructions,
but read the following first - it is important
to the future of your Swift!
Can you help your Swift?
- Evidence of serious damage probably means the Swift is not going to survive - in any event you cannot help it, and should take it to a vet.
- If the Swift is well-developed, alert, active, and healthy, with the right weight for its age, it will probably survive and fly. (Swift weights: at hatching 3g,
10 days 20g, 20 days 45g and still fluffy, 30 days 50g and flight feathers emerging, 40 days 48g and almost ready to fly, flight usually at 45 days or so
- Do you want to get involved? No? Contact the Swift carers lower down on this page.
If they cannot help, then ask the PDSA, your local vet or the
- You want to try and save your Swift? Read the following....... and be ready for total commitment.
- NB it is illegal to handle a Swift or keep it in captivity unless you are licensed
by DEFRA, or are caring for an injured bird and
intend to release it. This does mean that you must release your Swift as soon as it can fly, or take it to a vet or
the PDSA for humane euthanasia if it can never fly.
pale edges to the head feathers, the bleached look of the
forehead and cheeks, and downy feathers still visible on the left hand bird's back.
Adult Swifts are dark brown, with just a pale throat.
Photographs © Ulrich Tigges
Where to keep your Swift until it can fly
Put it in a sound clean cardboard box with lots of air holes punched in it, and clean paper towelling on the floor, (NOT cotton wool - the Swift will gets its
claws caught in the fluff!) and keep it somewhere shaded, cool and quiet and CAT-FREE! The box should be big enough (a minimum of 60cm long and 25cm
wide) for the Swift to spread its wings fully and do the "press-ups" that strengthen the flight muscles. Making it a nest-cup (eg with a small hat or from
crushed and shaped blotting paper) will comfort the Swift considerably. Do NOT keep it in a cage or glass tank - it will be terrified.
How to hold a Swift - but wear a clean glove for protection - look at
photograph © Dr Ken Perry
Visit our Shopping! page to find a supplier of suitable
cotton gloves or
just click on the Swift
How to hold your
You should wear a clean light glove to protect the Swift's plumage and your hand as a Swift's claws are VERY sharp! Pick the Swift up with your open hand,
then very gently close it so that the Swift's head is between your forefinger and thumb, and the rest of the hand holds the body and wings. Take great care
not to put any pressure at all on the bird. You must be gentle, give the Swift space. If you squeeze it, it will be severely injured.
How to release
If your Swift is in good condition, without any injuries, has wing feathers 1.5cm longer than the tail when closed, is bright eyed and active, and weighs 35 to
45g then you can release it immediately, provided it isn't raining.
Swifts ready to fly are hyper-active, beating their wings in the box and keen to go. Take the Swift in its prepared cardboard box to a quiet cat and dog free
open space, where you can easily recover it if it fails to fly, and where it won't have far to fall if it crash-lands. If this is not easy for you, test-fly your Swift
indoors in a large, uncluttered, safe and quiet room, before releasing in a more confined area such as a garden.
If there are other Swifts aloft that's good. Your Swift will have company. Take the Swift gently out of the box and hold it above your head (Statue of Liberty
style!) and see if it takes off.
It may flutter to the ground but if it seems likely that it can fly give it another go. If its wings don't work properly it probably won't ever fly, and you should
take it to the PDSA or a vet for humane euthanasia.
photograph © Erich Kaiser
on the Swift to see this video first!
If your Swift is not ready for flight, it must be cared for until it is. They are pure insectivores, so must be fed only
on insects. You should add Calcium and Vitamins A,
B, C and E, which you should find in supplements made
for birds (eg "Nutrabol" and "SA37")
and reptiles. These are available at some
from Livefoods Direct (see
their details at the bottom of this page) who also supply the crickets,
and dried insects mentioned below. It is
important to provide a mix of the suggested foods. Small
food items should be crushed with the supplements and
a few drops of water into small balls the size of a
hazelnut, then fed to the Swift. This mimics natural
feeding by the adult birds.
the left is
a "food ball", insects collected
in the air and compressed by the adult Swift.
It's about 10mm long. Your feeding should
mimic this. The right hand photo shows the
"food ball" taken apart revealing
it's made up of beetles, some flying ants,
aphids and and a hover fly, plus other unidentifiable
photographs © Erich Kaiser
food items - It is
important to provide a mix of these foods
- Small Crickets
and Locusts. Available from commercial suppliers.
Separate the soft abdomens from the tougher
thoraxes and spiky legs, and feed the Swift
the abdomens and thoraxes (but NOT the spiky legs), dipped
in water and supplements. Swifts need as many as 60 to 80 crickets
or locusts a day, depending on the size of the crickets, and the age of the Swift,
divided between 6 to 8 meals.
- Flies. Buy fishermens' maggots and keep them in a large
well-ventilated, dry plastic box with crumpled
brown paper inside, where they can
pupate and hatch into flies. Alternatively, trap wild flies in a bottle-trap - see picture below. Chill the flies until they stop moving, and crush them
together into small balls. When at room temperature again, dip in water and then into the calcium and vitamin supplement and feed to your Swift. It
may need as many as 100 flies a day.
- Mealworms. Good
quality fresh, plump and well-fed mealworms can
be used as part of a Swift's diet. Crush the heads
before you use them. Limp, translucent empty-looking
mealworms are not suitable.
Look like large maggots. High in fat, they are available
from commercial suppliers and have a long shelf
insects. Swifts eat greenfly, other aphids, flying
ants, hoverflies, tiny beetles, small spiders, in
fact a very wide variety of insects and arachnids,
(but not wasps or bees).
You can collect this food by bashing bushes and
shrubs over a clean bucket with a
small stick. Crush into food balls and feed
to your Swift. Don't do this if you have recently
used insecticides in your garden.
- NEVER feed a Swift bread, egg,
meat, "mince"or petfood - it will die
or become deformed.
SUGGESTED FIRST ORDER FOR HAND REARING
A SWIFT CHICK
BROWN CRICKETS ADULT 250 MAXIPACK
+ SILENT CRICKETS LARGE 170 MAXIPACK
+ WAXWORMS 250 OR MAXIPACK
This may seem a lot but a healthy
chick will eat this in a few days and you cannot order live food at the weekend. For ease freeze the crickets on arrival, when dead pick out of bran and put
into small container, keep frozen and take out enough for each meal being VERY
careful they are FULLY defrosted! Wax worms keep in a cool place OK for
days... NEVER freeze. Pierce skin before feeding.
For experts only! A just-released second-brood Swift sets off for Africa. Only
fully-fit Swifts should be released from high sites. If you have any doubts
release at ground level, or test-fly the Swift indoors first. This bird was
abandoned by its parents when they migrated, and rescued and fed by Erich
and Gertrude Kaiser at their Kronberg Swift Colony. In a good year as many as
100 Swifts will breed in their gable and eaves colony boxes.
photograph © Erich Kaiser
How to get your
Swift to drink
It should be given some water with each meal. The easiest way is to dip its insect food into water just before feeding. Otherwise use an eye dropper or a
small plastic rod to transfer droplets of water to its beak. The Swift should with luck open its beak to suck in the drop.
Some Swifts are keen to eat - some appear indifferent. Here is one carer's tale:
I found that the Swift sat quite comfortably in the"beenie" hat I gave it to nest in, while placed on my lap or at a table during feeding. I shook the
insects in "Nutrabol" before feeding.
I separated the larger crickets' abdomens from their thoraxes, and used both halves.
The Swift if healthy should be begging by opening its mouth
really wide. Between each mouthful give it about half a minute to swallow. As they fill up they will lose interest in feeding and refuse to swallow.
I tried to feed it 6 - 8 times a day, not feeding it at night, to replicate life in the wild. A good feeding session would see it eat about 30
insect items. This is relative to size though. The bird will let you know when it is full.
The bird that died had an unhealthy disinterest in feeding towards the end, which was an obvious sign that it was not well, while the bird that successfully
flew was always keen to feed.
I would definitely not feed Swifts on any processed foods - it has to be insects. I even went as far as catching big flies and hover flies. I was given some
common fly pupae which were very easy to hatch - just stick them in a dark cupboard at room temperature.
A good sign of the bird's alertness was seeing just how in tune the Swift was. If a bee came into the room it would react instantly to the buzz and its eyes
were fixed on the bee. It would even try to crawl towards the bee.
Remember! Pets and noisy or inquisitive children are incompatible with the calm, safe environment Swifts must have.
Cleanliness & Respect
is vital that you keep the Swift, its lodgings and surroundings
spotlessly clean. Remove any uneaten food or food fragments
promptly; do not feed them decayed or dried insects.
Swifts are not pets, they are wild creatures and need
to be treated with the greatest respect. They belong
to a world we will never be truly part of, the skies.
CD - Click
to e-mail Gillian Westray for a copy of her Swift Care
CD, (just £5.00) full of practical advice for carers
for Vets Click
to download advice from a Veterinary Surgeon specialising
in Italian, Polish, Catalan & Spanish
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Suppliers of live insects and supplements
for feeding abandoned or injured Swift
e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org
- Livefoods Direct Ltd,
Houghton Road, North Anston Trading
Estate, Sheffield, S25 4JJ
Food Pack for Swifts, Martins & Swallows
1 Maxi pack of Wax Worms plus
1 Maxi pack of Large Banded Crickets = total
in code SWIFT-SOS at the
check-out to receive a
discount of 5%
Provides enough food to treat a grounded adult for starvation or to feed a chick
for a few days.
rear a chick full term, supplements and larger food supplies are
before 12 noon for next day delivery - weekdays only! See website for full
Swift First Aid & Carers Back to