Apus apus (Common swift) - Diary 2017

My notes on the activity of swifts at my house in 2017...

See the main page for notes, photos, and diaries for other years.

You can view live video here from some of the nestboxes (not guaranteed always online, but I try to keep it running). Now offline for 2017 season as the birds have left.

2017 Swift diary...

The numbered nestboxes can be seen on this photo, and the entrances to the internal boxes on the gable end in this photo.

Activity in inspected boxes 2017 (prediction in red italic; '<' 'less-than' date could be earlier). See all years here
2017#1May-6May-15May-22May-25-Jun-14Jul-26--2nd egg didn't hatch
2017#g3?<May-17?<May-28-<Jun-16xJun-30, no eggs or young, one chick carcase
2017#g3a??Jul-1/5Jul-3/7-<Jul-25Sep-9Re-lay after earlier failure. One chick died at a few days old.
2017#g6?<May-17?<May-28-<Jun-16Jul-25Jul-25-Jun-30, 2 chicks present

2017-September-9 At last the single chick in nestbox #g3 has fledged. It left at 08:30 (seen on the external video) while the single adult was still there. That's at least 46 days from hatching, so a bit longer than the 'usual' 42 days. The adult left at 09:36 and it will be interesting to see whether it returns.

2017-August-29 For around a couple of days now, there has only been one adult swift attending the nest, and the single chick, in nestbox #g3. Not necessarily a problem, with just an estimated 7 days until the chick fledges, but let's hope the remaining adult keeps it up for as long as the chick needs to be fed.

2017-August-22 It's been a while now since the last screaming party by swifts. They've gone from my house, apart from the pair in nestbox #g3, still raising their late single chick. It appears to be doing well, and I estimate another two weeks before fledging. Yesterday, I counted 12 feeding visits by the pair of adults (the camera may have missed another one), in around 12 hours of flying in daylight - days already much shorter than at mid-summer.

I've often seen the parasitic fly Crataerina pallida on the swift chick. This nestbox has only been there for 2 seasons, yet already infested. One wonders how this flightless insect appears at a new nest-site so quickly. It can only be by transport on the adult swifts, and presumably the adults don't often visit more than one nest-site, but still manage to carry the parasite from infested nest-sites to new ones. Here is a paper on the subject from the "Journal of Insect Science".

I've written in previous seasons that, without careful observation, you wouldn't know swifts were still around, with no screaming, and just 12 visits to the nest during the day.

2017-August-7 The swifts are starting to leave. The pair in box #4 stayed for over 2 weeks after their 3 young had fledged, but two nights ago there was only one adult present, and last night none. Most other pairs are still here, including those in camera box #1. Swifts (non-breeding this season) are still entering a starling box, and one of the 'brick-size' boxes, so might return to breed in these next year.

And then there is the pair in gable-end box #g3 (now on the live video), with their single very late chick, now estimated 2 weeks old. So far, so good, but another 4 weeks before it will be due to fledge.

2017-July-31 I had my doubts yesterday about the viability of the smaller chick in box #g3, and by today it appears unresponsive or dead. I've never seen a discrepancy in the sizes of chicks in a clutch before, and assume there was something 'wrong' with this one. Being so late in the season, with reducing daylight hours to forage, raising just one chick might be more likely to succeed.

2017-July-30 Yesterday, I added a video camera looking into swift box #g3, and saw their two chicks for the first time. One is considerably larger than the other, but both are being fed by the adults. See the 'live video' page. This is one of the gable-end/loft entrances added for the 2016 season (see here for the story of their installation).

I've taken the video offline from boxes #1 and #4, since the young have fledged (the adults are still returning at night).

2017-July-26 The single chick in box #1 fledged at 05:59, following both of its parents out of the box.

2017-July-25 Both chicks in box #g6 have fledged. First one at 11:05 this morning, and the second at 20:25. The typical first flight of a fledgling (flap, and don't lose much height) was seen on the outside camera.

I have convinced myself that egg or eggs in box #g3 have hatched, despite having seen neither eggs nor chicks. I've added another line to the table (#g3a) for this re-lay in box #g3. The visits by adults (seen on the external camera) look like 'feeding change-overs' (though do these differ from 'incubating change-overs' in any way?). Inside the box, both adults were present, but a piece of egg-shell was visible. The timing makes sense: just a dead chick on 2017-Jun-30; incubating by 2017-Jul-7; so hatching would be expected about now. If they succeed, then fledging will be around 2017-Sep-5, which would be weeks later than I have observed previously. When will I ever see them without an adult in the way?

I can still hear chicks calling in soffit-space #w2r.

2017-July-22 The remaining two chicks in nestbox #4 fledged this morning. I've since seen an adult return with food, but no chicks to feed it to.

Nothing else of note: still two chicks in #g6; still don't know what's in the nest in #g3 (both adults in the way today - it was raining); and no eggs in #g1 (adults still visiting).

2017-July-20 The first swift chick has fledged from box #4, probably on 2017-July-19. I last saw all 5 birds on camera at 21:35 the previous evening (there's far too much saved video to look at all of it). Having only spotted 2 chicks being fed by adults yesterday, I just checked inside the nestbox (the birds can 'hide' out of view of the camera) and only 2 chicks remain.

2017-July-17 I thought it was time for another report, even though nothing of note has happened. No chicks have yet fledged from those nests I can be certain about, though it's only 3 days to the predicted time for nest #4. There is still a pair of swifts regularly in the starling box, and also in gable box #g1 (no eggs or anything). Swifts have also been going in gable box #g2, but I suspect it is the same ones which use #g1 more regularly.

Recently, I've checked gable box #g3 almost every day, hoping to discover what is in the nest. But every time so far, an adult bird has been on the nest, so I haven't been able to see. Given that there was nothing except a dead chick on 2017-June-30, but the adults have been 'sitting' since 2017-July-7, then surely there must be eggs, which might hatch in another week or so.

2017-July-7 I just took a quick look at all the accessible nests without cameras, so in addition to the camera nests (1 chick in #1, and 3 chicks in #4), there are:
#2 - 3 chicks
#3 - nothing (birds have been in and out regularly, but still this box has never been used for breeding)
#5 - 2 chicks (and one of the adults at the time I looked)
#g1 - nothing (but a pair of birds in and out regularly)
#g3 - a pair of adults, one on the nest. Will they re-lay (have they already?) after evident failure earlier in the season?
#g6 - 2 chicks
There are also inaccessible nests #w1r and #w2r which probably have young, plus the pair going into a starling box.

2017-July-2 Yesterday, I deployed the 'outdoor' camera, aimed at the 6 gable-entrances, for the first time this season. Swifts are going in and out of #g1 and #g3 (in addition to the expected feeding visits to #g6), and I think pairs spent last night in both (motion-detection caught them going in, but not coming out). #g1 has the call-playing speaker inside - although the birds evidently don't mind (and maybe it attracted them), I've turned it off, as a colony this size shouldn't really need call-playing. #g3 (used successfully last year) is where this year's clutch seems to have failed. There is still time (just about) for more late eggs.

2017-June-30 Looked in the 6 gable-end boxes inside the loft. 2 chicks in #g6 (and possibly an unhatched egg), but in #g3 just a dessicated carcase of 1 chick, so don't know what has happened there. No real activity in the other 4, though perhaps bits of nesting material here and there.

2017-June-25 The answer to yesterday's question: this morning, the 2nd egg was finally displaced from the nest in box #1, 11 days after it might have been expected to hatch if fertile. I don't know whether it's been removed completely, or is somewhere in the nestbox out of view of the camera. So finally, the single chick is sometimes alone, with both adults away. It's the first time I've had just one chick being raised on camera (rather than 2 or 3).

2017-June-24 The 2nd egg in nestbox #1 is now 10 days overdue, and, realistically, isn't going to hatch. But the adult swifts still seem to be incubating it, alongside the ever-growing chick. One wonders how long, if ever, before they realise that something's wrong with this egg. At least, with only one chick, they shouldn't have any problem feeding it, even though insect-catching time is being 'wasted' on incubation. Thinking back, my first ever breeding pair of swifts were in this box in 2012 (without camera), and at the end of the season, there was a left-over egg in the box - still seemingly fresh and without an embryo when I removed it in March 2013.

2017-June-19 It seems unlikely that the second egg in nestbox #1 is going to hatch, as it's now 5 days since the first egg hatched. The single chick appears to be doing well, as do the 3 in nestbox #4.

Chicks in swift box #4
Here are the three chicks in box #4 on 19th June 2017, at 11 days since hatching.

I've just seen a prospecting swift clinging onto box #b2 (where I twice saw one enter earlier in the season), but it was kept out by a resident sparrow.

2017-June-15 The second egg in nestbox #1 still hadn't hatched by 15:00 this afternoon.

No change in the 6 gable-end boxes. This afternoon, a swift was 'sitting' in each of #g3 and #g6 (don't know whether eggs or young), but no birds or signs of extra nest-material in the other 4, though (as recorded previously) I've seen a swift in #g4 and #g5, and saw one enter #g1 last night. Perhaps it's time for another check after dark, to see whether birds are spending the night in any of the others - last year, the pair in #g3 produced their first egg on 17-Jun-2016 without adding any nesting material to the concave.

2017-June-14 The first egg in nestbox #1 has hatched.

2017-June-13 Today is the predicted hatching-day for the 2 eggs in nestbox #1, but they haven't hatched yet. I saw the eggs on the video earlier in the day. The 3 chicks in nestbox #4 appear to be doing well - sometimes left unattended in the warm weather.

Twice, in the last few days, I've seen a swift enter one of the two trial 'brick-size' boxes (#b2), as almost the last event before dark. Not the first time I've seen swifts go in these, but who knows whether this is breeding or just roosting. I think that sparrows are nesting in the adjacent #b1.

2017-June-9 The 3rd egg has hatched in nestbox #4, and I've seen all 3 chicks being fed.

2017-June-8 2 of the 3 eggs hatched in nestbox #4 today, 2 days earlier than I had predicted. The weather continues to be poor, with strong winds, but at least less rain today. There has been very little swift activity - maybe not as many changes over of adult birds as there would be if food was plentiful, so I was glad to see a parent return and feed the 2 chicks.

In nestbox #1, the 2 eggs were left unattended for nearly 3 hours - not a problem, but perhaps another sign that conditions for feeding were poor.

2017-June-6 Prolonged rain today, and swifts likely staying at their nests (certainly the ones on camera are). I took another look in the 6 gable-end boxes. As expected, there were pairs in #g3 and #g6, but also a single bird in #g5. It's impossible to tell at the moment whether there might be eggs in #g5, or whether it's still just a solitary bird, but given that the pairs were 'at home' in the other two boxes, it confirms that another bird 'knows' about these boxes.

2017-May-28 I just did a daytime inspection of the 6 gable-end boxes. No activity in 4 of them, but there was a swift 'sitting' (presumably incubating') in each of #g3 and #g6. It remains to be seen whether other boxes are occupied later in 2017.

Later in the day, had a clear view of the eggs in box #1 without a bird in the way. Still 2 eggs, and it's 3 days since the 2nd was laid, so the clutch is probably staying at 2.

2017-May-25 Second egg laid in box #1 today, at 09:00 this morning. Although it's been more common for eggs to be laid two days apart, there have been quite a number with a three-day interval since I've been recording.

2017-May-22 First egg laid in box #1 today, sometime this morning.

For box #4, today was the day for "will there be a third egg, or will they stick with two?". And the answer is: "It's 3 eggs", with the 3rd laid sometime this morning.

2017-May-20 Second egg laid in box #4 today. I first saw it on captured video at 09:25.

2017-May-18 First egg laid in box #4 today. I haven't the interest I once had in looking through endless video to determine exactly when the egg was laid, but both birds appeared to stay at the nest this morning, and I think the egg was laid at 12:33, after which both birds left.

Last night, after dark, I checked the 6 gable-end boxes (inside the loft). There were pairs of swifts in #g3 and #g6 (the two which were used last year), and a single bird in #g4. #g3 and #g6 are the two boxes which birds first entered in June and July 2016 (with one pair breeding successfully), so presumably pairs have returned at the start of the 2017 season.

2017-May-15 At 16:13, a swift entered camera box #1 carrying feathers - I assume the bird which has been here for 9 days. A few seconds later, it was joined by a second one, and both stayed in for the rest of the day and the night. Is this relatively late arrival of the second bird a member of the pair from last year, or a new bird? I have no way to know. The arrival of first and second birds in box #1 on May-6 and May-15 repeats the dates from 2013, the first year I had a camera in the box.

Apart from the two cameras boxes, I have regularly seen swifts entering 4 other nest spaces at the back of the house, and I haven't tried to observe the 6 entrances in the gable.

2017-May-9 At 08:39 this morning, two swifts entered box #4 one after the other. There had only been one there overnight, so this is the first definite pair of the year.

There is still just a single bird spending the night in box #1. As for non-camera places: On 2017-May-6 I saw a swift enter box #2, and guessed from observed behaviour and 'duetting' calls that there was probably one in there already. And on 2017-May-7 a swift entered box #5.

2017-May-6 At 12:47, a swift entered box #1 for the first time this year. Yesterday's swift stayed in box #4 overnight and left in the morning.

2017-May-5 I saw my first swifts for 2017 over the village this morning, and at 19:08 in the evening, a swift entered box #4 for the first time this year.

2017-April-14 I have just been getting the video cameras ready in the usual two nestboxes. I'm going to try a more 'zoomed-in' view this year: the cameras are in the same position, but with 6mm and 8mm lenses, compared to the 3.6mm lenses used previously

Again this year, in addition to the usual 5 nestboxes plus various holes in the soffit which they use, I have 6 boxes installed in the loft, with access through the brickwork in the gable end (photos here).

The two video cameras are now ready for the 2017 season (link to live video above).

This is nestbox #1 in which swifts raised young for the first time in 2012.

In 2013 (with a camera in the box for the first time) they raised 3 chicks; 2 in 2014; 3 in 2015; and 2 in 2016.

The dates of arrival of the first swift in this box were: 2013 May 6th evening; 2014 May 5th evening; 2015 May 6th evening; 2016 May 4th afternoon; 2017 May 6th midday.

This is nestbox #4 in which swifts raised young for the first time in 2014 (with a camera in the box).

2 chicks were raised in 2014; 3 in 2015; and 2 in 2016.

The dates of arrival of the first swift in this box were: 2014 May 7th evening; 2015 May 4th evening; 2016 May 5th evening; 2017 May 5th evening.

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Author: Clarke Brunt (clarke.brunt@viridis.net)
Last modified: 9th September 2017