Swift Rehabilitation


  Rescued Swifts resting during recovery

  View of a Carer's Clinic        Photos G Westray

  Young Swifts, almost ready to fly away

Read this first!

   You've found a fallen Swift.....  So don't delay!    
   1. Put it in a warm, safe, calm environment  - ventilated cardboard box (like a shoe box) is ideal                    
   2. Assess its weight, age and condition (for how to do this see below...)  
   3. DO NOT FEED IT until you have received specialist advice from one of our carers (see contacts list below)   
   4. Give it water by putting drops on its beak with a Baby Bud       
   5. DO NOT THROW IT INTO THE AIR - this may seriously injure or kill it        
   Now please read on for the details.... Thanks!      

Swift First Aid

Swifts have 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
  •  adults soaked with torrential rain / dehydrated / starving / hypothermic

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.

Weighing your Swift
This 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.

Age & Weight Chart Download 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 frequent meals. 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!  

Essential reading
Handrearing the Common Swift "The 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!

Taking a decision

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 from hatching.)
  • 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 RSPB.
  • 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.


Juvenile Swifts.
Note the 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 those claws!
photograph © Dr Ken Perry


Need gloves? Visit our Shopping! page to find a supplier of suitable cotton gloves or just click on the Swift Visit our Shopping! page

How to hold your Swift
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 your Swift
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

Feeding your Swift
Hand Feeding the Common Swift Click 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 petshops and from Livefoods Direct (see their details at the bottom of this page) who also supply the crickets, waxworms 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.


On 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 creatures.
photographs © Erich Kaiser


Acceptable 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.
  • Waxworms. Look like large maggots. High in fat, they are available from commercial suppliers and have a long shelf life.
  • Garden 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, milk, meat, "mince"or petfood - it will die or become deformed.



    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.

Feeding experiences
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.

Swift Cleanliness & Respect
It 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.

Advice CD - Click here to e-mail Gillian Westray for a copy of her Swift Care CD, (just £5.00) full of practical advice for carers

Advice for Vets Click here to download advice from a Veterinary Surgeon specialising in Swifts

Advice in Italian, Polish, Catalan & Spanish

Quando si ritrova un nidiaceo Come intervenire quando si ritrova un nidiaceo di Rondine, Rondone o Balestruccio

Clicca qui! Clicca qui per contattare un esperto di cure Rondone a Trieste

Clicca qui! Clicca qui per scaricare il parere degli esperti la cura per i giovani Rondone

Fundacja Ratujmy Ptaki Wiecej informacji na temat jerzyka, kwestii zwiazanych z jego gniazdowaniem oraz innych wskazowek mozna uzyskac na stronie Fundacji Ratujmy Ptaki - e-mail: Warszawa , e-mail Szczecin

Wychowanie Jerzyka Kliknij by pobrac artykul na temat opieki nad jerzykiem w warunkach domowych

Feu clic aquí per descarregar una guia completi per a la cura dels joves abandonats falciots

Haga clic aqui para descargar una guia complete para el cuidado de los jovenes abandonados vencejos

Swift Foods

Livefoods Direct!
Suppliers of live insects and supplements for feeding abandoned or injured Swift chicks.
e-mail -
sales@livefoodsdirect.co.uk  Web - www.livefoodsdirect.co.uk
mail -
Livefoods Direct Ltd, Houghton Road, North Anston Trading Estate, Sheffield, S25 4JJ

Emergency Food Pack for Swifts, Martins & Swallows
Maxi pack of Wax Worms plus 1 Maxi pack of Large Banded Crickets = total £8.80
Put 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. 
o rear a chick full term, supplements and larger food supplies are needed

Order before 12 noon for next day delivery - weekdays only! See website for full details

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