By Katherine Willett
Swifts are seen (and heard) in the UK from May to August, and they are regularly seen over parts of SE23. There are swift
nesting colonies in Wynell Road (off Perry Vale), Kilmorie Road, Lowther Hill and Devonshire Road/Tyson Road.
Swifts are small, fast and agile with a distinctive silhouette. They are often seen in groups circulating high in the sky and have a distinctive 'screaming' call.
They are migratory birds, flying from Africa to northern climates where they nest and raise their young, before flying back to Africa. Amazingly, swifts spend most of their lives flying and never land, other than to nest. They even sleep whilst flying!
Swifts have adapted to nesting in buildings, not trees, which means cities are ideal nesting grounds. However, swift numbers have declined dramatically because their existing nests are under threat from building renovation, and there are few alternative nesting spaces in modern buildings.
Swifts depend on gaps and small holes high up in buildings, for example under eaves or behind gutters. But as houses are repaired these holes and gaps are blocked up and swifts lose their nesting places.
Each swift pair return to the same nest every year. Unfortunately if their nest has disappeared they cannot breed unless they find a new site, which is difficult because modern building design does not provide nooks and crannies.
A local swifts group (known as Lewisham Swifts) was created by Rebecca Headd, a Forest Hill resident who wanted to protect her local swift colony in Wynell Road. The group, which aims to raise awareness of swifts and tries to protect and extend nesting sites to increase the swift population, has now grown to cover the whole borough.
Lewisham Swifts maps reported swift sightings across the borough. This forms a picture of where swifts might be nesting and is also a way of encouraging people to take an interest in the birds.
Last May, ten swift nest boxes were installed on the side of a block of flats in Wynell Road by the London Fire Brigade, who used it as a training exercise to use their ladder platform. The boxes are visible from the top of Wynell Road at the junction with the alley, so passers-by can keep an eye out to see if any swifts take up residence.