Sunday book review – Swifts and Us by Sarah Gibson

This is a good book about Swifts – and those birds are flying about outside as I write this review. But then, they are always flying about somewhere, as the title of the book, and the contents of the book, make clear. This is a bird which is on the wing most of its life, like no other (except the Common Swift, not so common these days, is just one of over 100 swift species in the world) and it visits us in May and June, with bits of April, quite a lot of July and some of August.

There are 24 chapters, so the book covers Swifts in many places and concentrates mainly on their attachment to the built environment and what we can do to make a space for Swifts in our busy lives and our actual homes and offices. A very engaging theme through the book is talking directly to those involved in studying Swifts, and their conservation in the UK and beyond, and so we read of the likes of the departed David Lack and Chris Mead, and of the still going strong Edward Mayer and Dick Newell amongst quite a lot of others. The work of Swift Conservation and Action for Swifts are covered, as well as the activities of non-UK Swift conservationists.

There is only so much that one can tell the reader about Swifts. It’s a bird that travels long distances, spends much of its life on the wing, eats aerial insects and nests mostly in buildings – those are the basics, and every book about Swifts will cover those in different ways. But the value added in this book is high because of the insights into Swift enthusiasts and Swift conservationists that the author brings.

The author has worked for the Shropshire Wildlife Trusts for a good many years, and the jacket tells us that she has harangued her colleagues for using incomprehensible jargon and shoddy grammar. This book reads very well.

The cover? It’s definitely a Swift but it’s a bit pedestrian isn’t it? 6/10. But inside, there is a series of wonderful photographs, by a variety of photographers, of Swifts in flight which make a fine addition to the text.

Swifts and Us: the life of the bird that sleeps in the sky by Sarah Gibson is published by William Collins


1 Reply to “Sunday book review – Swifts and Us by Sarah Gibson”

  1. Swift Awareness Week 2021 (3-11 July) has over 60 local events around the UK starting this Saturday so please do support any that are near you.
    The full list of events can be seen on the Action for Swifts site at .
    They include evening walks, a zoom talk by Edward Mayer (hosted by the NW wales Wildlife Trust), swift counts, swift trails round Edinburgh, a display by a school near Bristol, an open garden at a house with swifts in Bristol (though this is sold out!) and much more. The most northerly event is in Aberdeenshire with others on the south coast.
    There is so much support for this bird across the UK with over 90 local swift groups running but the bird’s decline continues unabated.
    The latest calculation is that it has dropped by some 62% in the last 25 years so it is certainly a candidate to be added to the red list next time the list is reassessed.
    Do look at the list and see if there any events near you.

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