The Royal Swift is a bird of stylized silhouette, belonging to the family apodidae, a group in which are all the swifts that are birds similar to swallows that belong to another family and that has nothing to do with this biologically speaking, but if they are directly related to the hummingbirds.
One of the most outstanding peculiarities of this family is its small legs, which is the origin of its scientific name. It is a songbird with very special characteristics that make it quite particular, it has a pleasant, constant and cheerful song.
Characteristics of the Alpine Swift
It is the largest of the swift varieties, measuring 20 to 23 cm from beak to tail, with a wingspan of 57 cm and a weight of approximately 100 g. Its upperparts are dark brown as is its small tail, its underparts are white except for the breast, which is brown for both sexes.
Its beak is brown almost black, with large commissures that allow it to open its mouth wide, its legs are small, feathered, dark and with yellowish toes. They have a life expectancy of up to 20 years according to some studies.
Its flight is slower than that of other swifts, but it is also very fast, reaching up to 200 km in horizontal flight.
They usually nest in small colonies in nests made of straw, mud and feathers which they bind with their sticky saliva in cliffs, hollows and crevices. They lay two to three elongated white eggs, are monogamous and nest every year in the same place, both sexes are responsible for the construction of the nest.
They usually fly in circles around their nests. They hunt insects during their flight and store them in their crop to feed their young in quick stops that do not last long. (see article: The Nuthatch)
Its life is mostly spent in the air. It usually arrives well in advance to its nesting site before the mating and breeding season, which is not before the last days of May or early June, and leaves much later when it has already made its mating mutation.
So it usually arrives in the European region which is its nesting place approximately in the months of March and April and leaves around the months of September and October to spend the winter in African territory. It usually nests in mountainous areas but it can also be seen breeding in lowlands and even at sea level.
Incubation alternates between the father and mother in short periods of time for approximately 20 days. Both parents feed their young with insect pellets that they regurgitate into their mouths. The chicks are already able to fly at about six weeks but leave the nest depending on weather conditions.
They adapt well to urban areas and can use holes and cracks in walls for nesting, when insects are scarce or there is bad weather and the parents cannot hunt, the chicks go into a kind of lethargy by lowering their body temperature to avoid wasting energy until the food supply is regularized.
The cavities and vents on the top of buildings are also spaces that the Royal Swift can use for nesting, as long as the air space of entry and exit to its nest does not have any type of obstacle that prevents it from getting in and out easily, since it needs to be very precise in its landing, since it arrives at high speed and stops inside the cavity with its legs.
Four amazing characteristics of the Alpine Swift
- It spends most of its life in the air, reaching up to 10 months in the air, hunting, drinking, sleeping and mating in the air.
- They need to hunt around 40,000 insects to be able to provide adequate food for their young, which they do without problems thanks to the ability to open their mouth wide and store in the crop a large number of insects at a time, it has been discovered in a single bite more than 600 aphids and other insects in the crop of a bird.
- They are able to predict weather changes and approaching storms well in advance, which allows them to change course easily without losing their orientation.
- Chicks go into a dormant state when the parents are not able to feed them for a long period of time, thus conserving their energy until they appear again.
- Their nest is sufficiently compact since they use their saliva to agglutinate all the elements that they use in their construction in this way it lasts in the time, only when it deteriorates a little, they make repairs in order to return year after year.
The Common Swift is not yet an Endangered or Threatened species, but its population has begun to decline mainly as a result of climate change and the treatment of these species by the inhabitants of the cities and towns where they nest.
Many citizens and even the authorities do not understand the importance of respecting the nesting place of these birds and for this reason they eliminate their nests or cover the places where they could possibly settle forcing them to look for another place to nest, which is a very high effort for them.
Sometimes it happens that birds get trapped in skylights, or in holes in false ceilings or kitchen fans from where they cannot get out by their own means and end up dying unless the most sensitive citizens give notice to the authorities and these rescue them by taking them to wildlife recovery centers.
There is a law in Europe that expressly prohibits the disturbance of nesting, hibernation, breeding and resting areas of migratory birds in order to protect the species. It prohibits the removal of nests, the obstruction of breeding areas; the removal of a nest of a protected species requires authorization from the competent authorities.
Although no recent studies have been made in Spain, there are sectors where it is presumed that the population has increased, but there are no exact figures since the last studies were made in the 1970s, but it is estimated that the population of the Alpine Swift is close to ten thousand pairs approximately.
However, there is an ecological association that has begun to carry out a new census to estimate the status of this species, which is so important for the natural balance.
We have implemented the elaboration of nest boxes to be placed in strategic locations to facilitate the bird’s permanence in the nesting sites when there are no appropriate places.
These boxes are made of ecological wood, which are placed about two meters high and are specially designed for the comfort of the Swift, very low maintenance and it is not necessary to add any additional material because the bird is responsible for adapting it to their needs, thus contributing to its population does not decrease.