Common Swift (apus apus) from Nottingham Natural History Museum collection.

Common Swift (apus apus)

 Nottingham Natural History Museum collection

A shrill fingernail scrapes down a blackboard at the far reaches of earshot, a distant dark scythe slashing and tearing at the fabric of the sky. A flutter, stall, then a banking plummet, transmitting a magnesium flash bulb pulse of light from beneath a twisting scimitar wing, a remote reflection cleaved from the surface of the morning sun.
In the presence of Swifts it is near on impossible to not gasp and wax rhapsodic. Ted Hughes most famously proclaimed his joy and excitement on their return. ‘Look! There back! look!’. And rightly so, the Common Swift (apus apus ) is one of the worlds most thrilling and enigmatic birds, and one which more than lives up to its name.
Often confused with swallows and martins, which are of the family Hirundae, the Common Swift is of the Apodidae family of the order Apodiformes which makes them more closely related to hummingbirds.
Once fledged this dynamic bird will not return to a nest again until it reaches breeding maturity and establishes its own nest site, this can mean up to three years making the skies its home and habitat, each year travelling to sub-equatorial Africa and back again covering up to 60,000km before touching down again.
Feeding, drinking, mating, collecting nesting materials, bathing, even sleeping on the wing, aerodynamics are key to these astonishing achievements. A solid mass of muscle covered with small dense glossy feathers aid to battle and overcome energy sapping drag, this coupled with blade like wings which morph to alter profile and physiology when hitting the turbo button at their anarchic racer boy screaming parties which rattle around late August tree tops and chimneys capable of powering itself in horizontal flight at 111.6km/h. A.apus is the fastest of all birds, and if your chin is not already on the floor…..The oldest recorded Swift was 21 years old, ringed as a chick in Switzerland, and had clocked up an estimated 4.8 million kilometers in its lifetime.
One Swallow does not make a summer, but one Swift certainly does. The last of the migrant birds to arrive and the first to leave, they are only here for three months. The best times to see them at Idle valley are on overcast days when flying insects are driven down to the water surface.
They’ve made it again,
Which means the globe’s still working, the creation’s
Still waking refreshed, our summer’s
Still all to come….
                                   Ted Hughes – Swifts