Book review – Swifts in a Tower by David Lack


This is a reprint of the classic 1956 book by David Lack but, as in the updated version of his Life of the Robin, this is updated whilst maintaining the original text.

David Lack’s study of Swifts took place in the tower of the Oxford University Museum and has continued to this day.  Lack’s son Andrew, a professional scientist himself, has written a very good chapter at the end of his father’s original text to bring the story of what we know about Swifts up to date.  The mixture of a classic study and its modern developments works very well in my view.  New photographs are used and are superb, both a couple of flight shots by Steve Blain and a much larger number of images of the birds, including nestlings of all ages, from the nest boxes in which the Swifts nest and which made studying them practical.  These intimate portraits by Manuel Hinge are a very valuable edition. And the cover and end papers by a former colleague of mine, Colin Wilkinson, are attractive too. And the book has a foreword by Prof Christopher Perrins FRS, who studied Swifts for his D. Phil supervised by Lack, and then went on to be Lack’s successor as Director of the Edward Grey Institute for Field Ornithology.  All in all, this is a delightful and attractive and appropriate update of what was always, and ever will be, a classic study and also a classic example of making science intelligible to the person in the street.

So this is a lovely book about the mysterious bird which you are likely to see if you look to the skies above you now. I have just looked out of the window and I saw a Swift within 10 seconds, although they are declining in numbers and this doesn’t feel like a good year for them to me.

This book was made possible by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Oxford Swift City project – a 2-year project led by the RSPB which started in May 2017, and which aims to raise local and national awareness of the Swift’s plight.  What a good idea – and what a lovely book, that will certainly contribute to that aim.


Swifts in a Tower by David Lack is published by Unicorn Press.

And what could be more appropriate than buying your copy from Blackwell’s, an Oxford (the Oxford!) bookshop which is literally down the road and round the corner from this very tower…?

Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive

Get email notifications of new blog posts

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

5 Replies to “Book review – Swifts in a Tower by David Lack”

  1. Awaiting delivery of my copy with huge anticipation. This week we hope to complete our two swift surveys in the Oxford City pf Swifts project. I agree, Mark, it doesn't look like a great year at the moment.

  2. I'll certainly purchase a copy. Just an incidental observation from my view in Wuppertal, west of Germany: this year the first swifts arrived a good week later than in previous years, and moreover in alarmingly fewer numbers. They are normally punctual in their appearance within the first week of May. The delay between pioneers and the impressive screeching swarms is usually a matter of two or three days. So far, mid-May, I've spotted only very small groups, sparsely distributed, and then very sporadically. Disturbing.

  3. An utterly beautiful book detailing the life of one of Europe's most astounding birds. I cannot wait to get my copy of this edition.

  4. Thanks for the review Mark. It's been a fun project to help bring this natural history classic back to life. And yes I have to say the current continued lack of swifts (more than about 5-6 at a time anyway) over central Banbury is starting to worry me too. We've had a run of fine weather lasting almost a fortnight now - so where are the rest of them?

  5. There seemed to be screaming swift parties in Greenwich the other day and there have been plenty in Brockley as well.


Comments are closed.