Counting Swifts in Wicklow

The Swift population of County Wicklow is being surveyed in a joint venture project between the County Council and Birdwatch Ireland.   The aim is to identify for the first time, a baseline population figure for this bird in Wicklow.

At two recent community workshops in Bray and Baltinglass, participants heard from Ricky Whelan, Birdwatch Ireland survey co-ordinator, about the life cycle of this fascinating bird and received copies of a new publication ‘Saving Swifts’ produced jointly by Birdwatch Ireland and Local Authority Heritage Officers.

Swifts have recently arrived in Wicklow following a long migration from southern Africa.  Slightly larger than a swallow, they are a “site faithful” bird, returning generation after generation to buildings in towns and villages to nest and raise young.

Like many of our wild species however, Swifts are increasingly threatened through loss of nest sites and have suffered an alarming 40 per cent population decline in the past decade.  Problems arise when buildings are renovated or torn down removing the Swifts nest sites and sometimes huge nesting colonies can be lost overnight.

Last year nesting sites were confirmed in Wicklow Town, Rathnew, Kilcoole, Greystones, Coolafancy, Bray, Aughrim, Kiltegan, Knockanarrigan, Coolattin and Rathdrum. It is hoped that with the participation of interested individuals, schools and Tidy Towns groups, this list can be significantly expanded this summer.

Members of the public are being asked to contact local co-ordinator Oran O Sullivan – Tel: 087 2339280  [email protected]  – or national co-ordinator,  Ricky Whelan, by e mail [email protected]  or on 085 783 2545 to report sightings. All information for Wicklow will be uploaded to the National Biodiversity Data Centre at www.biodiversityireland.ie .

To support this initiative a new guide “Saving Swifts” has been produced by Birdwatch Ireland and Local Authority Heritage Officers. This guide contains all the information required for individuals, local groups, schools, businesses or government departments to play a role in helping this threatened species.

Swifts nest in buildings where small gaps allow access to the roof space or cavities in masonry. Their chosen nest sites are often in older buildings which are sometimes dilapidated or in need of renovation.  Awareness about the presence and requirements of Swifts is essential to ensuring that their nest sites are protected as part of renovation works. This typically involves timing works to take place from Sept to May.

Also, there are many opportunities to create new nesting sites as part of new development through installing nest boxes or nesting bricks. The information is presented in a colourful and user-friendly format and includes details on Swift ecology, reasons for declines, suggested conservation measures, nest box plans, case studies and much more.

Wicklow County Council Heritage Officer, Deirdre Burns, stated: “Wicklow County Council is delighted to team up with Birdwatch Ireland on this Swift Project. This initiative forms part of our ongoing programme of biodiversity actions through the County Wicklow Heritage Plan, to record, protect and enhance biodiversity in Wicklow”.

“Saving Swifts” is available for free as a PDF from www.wicklow.ie or in hard copy by contacting Deirdre Burns, Heritage Officer, on 0404 20100 or e mail  [email protected].

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