The BTO keeps doing amazing things these days.  In my copy of BTO News there is an article on swift migration.

Photo taken by Meteor2017

Through putting geolocators on swifts – and rather critically taking them off again a year later – the details of the swifts’ movements in Africa are revealed.  And they are fascinating.

The picture on p17 of BTO News shows what A320 (that’s a swift not a road (although it is a road too – between Guildford and Staines)) got up to between 23 July 2010 and 8 May 2011.

When A320 was caught at Fowlmere by Doug Radford I was at the Game Fair. A few days later A320 was somewhere in central Spain whereas I was at Westminster tube station looking at adverts. By mid August A320 was high over African rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo whereas I was at the Bird Fair but still seeing the odd swift over my Northants garden. In early January I was at the races at Cheltenham and enjoying a large flock of waxwings whereas A320 was swanning, swifting, up and down the coast of Mozambique.

Come April, which was my last month at the RSPB, A320 spent 3 days flying across the Gulf of Guinea (that surprised me – I would have thought he/she would have stuck to an overland route) and then spent an interesting 10 days over Liberia (and just maybe the Gola Rainforest of Sierra Leone) before heading over the Sahara.  What better way to avoid last year’s Royal Wedding than flying over the Sahara some might say?

On the day I flew to the USA, A320 was in Morocco and only five days later A320 was back at Fowlmere (whilst I was in North Carolina).

I think A320 had a pretty interesting year with lots of interesting travel revealed by the geolocator. In the time I visited two countries A320 visited getting on for 30 different states. He/she stayed longer in some than others and the detail revealed by this study, and other swifts that have been similarly tagged, is fascinating.  Potentially this information is useful in terms of identifying areas which are important to conserve but the wide-ranging travels of this particular swift demonstrate that potentially any loss of rainforest anywhere in Africa might eat into its feeding habitat.

African deforestation is now faster than elsewhere in the world – partly because it got off to a slower start than elsewhere.  Swifts are declining in the UK although are pretty stable – or generally increasing – in Europe as a whole.  Are similar studies being done elsewhere in Europe – is the BTO encouraging such studies?

The swift is still enigmatic – but not quite as much of an enigma as before this study. Great stuff!  Novel, fascinating, and with potential to be useful too.


13 Replies to “Swift”

  1. Mark, whilst I appreciate the fact you’ve just blogged on my favourite bird of all (and dare I say it should be everyone’s favourite!), I’m sure those readers of your blog who do not get BTO news would love to see this swift migration map for themselves (and not just be told what (the albeit impressive I’m sure) Mark Avery was doing when the most impressive bird of all was doing its stuff?!)

    You may have put a link up (and I’ve myopically missed it) but just in case you didnt, and people do want to see the basic swift migration map – a link is below:


    And I agree (of course!) – the wonderful swift is an enigma (although perhaps less so now). What an incredible study.


  2. This is one of the reasons that many of us love birds so much. Despite humans trying to control the World these tiny creatures amaze us by achieving things mere mortals can never hope to emulate. This stuff by the BTO is truly mind blowing and opening up frontiers of knowledge every day.

    I cannot get enough of this information. If readers want to get more the Join the BTO.

  3. “these tiny creatures amaze us by achieving things mere mortals can never hope to emulate”

    If a swift could read this blog, I would be amazed.

  4. You may have taken A320 on your trip to the States Mark. It’s also a Jumbo Jet! What a flight of fancy comparison.

  5. Derek – I agree totally, you’ve put it bootifully ! I’m sitting here imaging A 320 cruising over the rain forests, dipping low to catch insects amongst the grazing herds, and, you’ll appreciate this particularly, Derek, my wife, like you used to the long drive from the channel to the Languedoc has just pointed out witn amazement that A320 flew from roughly equal to Barcelona to England between 7 & 8 May 2011 – wonderful.

    And, as well as joining the BTO, you could also sponsor a Swift, Cuckoo or Nightingale ?

  6. Thank you for sharing this, it was one of very few things these days, which I could read with my 8 year old son who was as enthralled as I.

  7. Absolutely fascinating stuff. It is great that we are still learning things about species!

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