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The Swift in Decline and a Wise Old Owl.

Updated on August 6, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

If for reasons beyond my control, I can not get out into the countryside on a particular day, I find compensation in the confines of the garden a relaxing way to spend the last hour of daylight. There is still time to savour the flowers in a beautiful light which seems to enhance certain colours particularly red and white flowers. The late industrious bees milk the last of the daylight hours as they hum from bloom to bloom.

As a naturalists I especially, enjoy in this tranquil period, observing the swifts that scream around the chimney pots, their amazing aerial ability never ceases to amaze me, as they trawl for flying insects in the cooling summer air.

I look forward with anticipation to their imminent arrival on the 1st of May {locally}, and for as long as I have kept notes the birds arrive bang on time, year in year out, with the exception of 1987 when for some reason they were 2 days late arriving on the 3rd of May. When one considers the distance they travel from Africa to the north west of England this is an amazing thing.

The swift on the wing

The aerial skills of the swift are legendary. Photograph by  courtesy of Pawel Kuzniar.
The aerial skills of the swift are legendary. Photograph by courtesy of Pawel Kuzniar.

Master of the skies

This master of the skies can be identified by its salient crescent shaped wings, and their dark colouring . When in flight they appear to be a universal black colour, although as the above picture clearly demonstrates the throat is whitish, the tail is forked.but they lack the streamers of the swallow.

The screams one hears whilst performing this winnowing, wheeling flight, consists of but two notes. The higher one is the female while the lower one is the male answering her call. The birds belong to the family Apodiforms which derives from the Greek apous, meaning "with no feet". Of course the bird does have feet but they are for all intents and purposes redundant as far as terrestrial walking is concerned. They are small and placed at the back of the body, thus the bird can only perch by clinging to vertical surfaces.

If the swift was to land on the ground he would be in some difficulty for the length of its wings and the positioning of its feet would make taking off almost impossible. Thus when he clings onto a vertical surface he can throw himself into the air in the manner of a parachutist. alluding to this the German name for the bird is Mauerseglar which translates as " wall glider".

Readers may find it surprising to learn that the swift eats, sleeps and mates on the wing. Another interesting fact concerns the young birds.Should the weather here in England be inclement for a protracted period the young swifts in the nest can attain a torpid state until the weather becomes fine once again and insect availability returns for the ever hunting parents.

Young swift

This young swift will soon leave the nest and head for Africa.
This young swift will soon leave the nest and head for Africa.

Away to Africa

Once the young birds leave the nest they fly, by some ancestral instinct, to Africa, making this journey without their parents. Studies have revealed that the young birds spend the the first two years of their life on the wing, until they are old enough to mate and nest. sadly the number of swifts seem, like many other species, to be in decline. Surveys are currently being carried out to ascertain why.

Old age

While on the subject of our feathered friends a story of a Tawny owl attracted my attention just recently. It is a story of an owl found dead at a near by Nature Reserve. However, this is not a tale of predation or of wanton killing but of a bird that died of old age.

Tawny owl

Tawny owls are wisened birds. Picture courtesy of jimfbleak
Tawny owls are wisened birds. Picture courtesy of jimfbleak


I will convey the story has it was conveyed to me. Volunteers at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Nature Reserve-Mere Sands Wood, found the owls dead body. They sent the bird to the British Trust for Ornithology {B.T.O.} to see what information they could glean from its identification ring. It was revealed that the bird had been ringed as a nestling at Mere Sands Wood on May 6th 1989 making the bird the ripe old age of almost 21 years, when it became deceased. The B.T.O's longest recorded life span for a tawny owl is twenty one years and five months.

What is fascinating about this story is that this was a wild bird never kept in captivity, living all its life around the area of the Reserve. The average age or the life expectancy for a tawny owl in the wild is FOUR years, so one can see why the revelations of the birds age caused excitement both at the reserve and at the B.T.O.

Tawny owlets

These young tawny owlets will already have had identification rings fitted. This beautiful photograph was taken by Artur Mikolajewski, for which I owe him a debt of gratitude.
These young tawny owlets will already have had identification rings fitted. This beautiful photograph was taken by Artur Mikolajewski, for which I owe him a debt of gratitude.

These facts could never have been revealed without the identification ring being recorded. Volunteers give their time and dedication so that writers like myself can obtain information about the age and habits of birds. {see my hub The invaluable British Trust for Ornithology }

Mere Sands Wood is a wetland habitat that attracts bird watchers in their droves. here they take advantage of the strategically placed hides to observe visiting wild fowl and other wildlife. The Reserve is the jewel in the crown of Lancashire Wildlife Trusts's many sites. It is located amid arable land near the village of Rufford in Lancashire. There are woodland trails of varying distances which are easy to walk, being level for the most part. Work by volunteers have made an all weather pathway which allows access for wheel chair users. They even provide electric "scooters" which may be hired for a donation.

The visitor centre which is open every day bar Friday is worth a visit and you are assured of a warm welcome. I have visited this site many many times and enjoy its tranquil setting, it is not as "commercial" as the larger near by Martin Mere Bird Reserve. The site is one of only two in the north west of England where the scarce yellow bartsia flourishes in the wild flower meadows.. Because of the lakes and ponds situated among deciduous woodland, dragonflies and damselflies are numerous in the summer months. As one would expect. breeding birds , other than wildfowl, are also numerous and over 100 species have bred at the Reserve and its environs.

I hope to do a hub in the near future about this beautiful reserve. Thank you for reading.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Thank you to everyone that has taken the time to leave a comment on A SWIFT DECLINE AND A WISE OLD OWL, They are appreciated.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      HoopBot nice to meet you. They may be dumb they are still very popular with most people. Thank you for visiting.

    • HoopBot profile image


      8 years ago from Internet

      Owls are actually one of the dumbest animals

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      B, your welcome to take the picture but I will appreciate it if you give credit to Artur Mikolajewski for this one. Thank you for your visit always nice to have you here. Best wishes.

      Pamela , Hi, Tawny owls in particular are known to attack even humans but only in defense of their young or nesting place. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Dapples 

      8 years ago from Just Arizona Now

      Very interesting information. My favorite item to buy if I am in the frame of mind to purchase something is a book on birds as evidenced by my piles of books on birds. The swifts are beautiful creatures, aren't they? I don't much like owls, but the three in this one photo are awfully cute and one can almost forget for a half second that given have a chance and a little more weight on them, they would gladly swoop down on a tiny kitten or puppy in a backyard and dissect it for lunch.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i find myself looking for the pics first then reading after. You must be in a most beautiful part of the world, to see such beauty every day. I may just steal the pics of the three owls..

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Darski, You never fail to amaze me with your comments, you are a loyal and dear friend. Thank you your fan and

      friend. Ps, my favourite rock band is another from your part of the world Meatloaf. I love that guy.How about a hub about the hawk.

      iantoP.F.Thank you my friend for the visit and for your kind comments.

    • iantoPF profile image

      Peter Freeman 

      8 years ago from Pen-Bre, Cymru/Wales

      D.A.L. You never dissapoint. Your Hubs are always such a good read and a pictoral delight. Thank you once again.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 

      8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Oh my Dearest friend, I love this hub more then words can express, how fascinating is this wonderful story. Did I tell you about how I saved a baby Hawk, did you know they sissss at you? And, they have colors of plume that looks like the bark of a tree? I do hope you tell more great stories to us, I am always happy when I read your hubs, and oh by the way, I was raised on the Western Music of the kinds that you named, however coming from the beach and my hippie ways, I ending up loving good ole Rock-in-Roll....Rate this way up and I adore your writing,and of course you! The best on HubPages is you!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Wow sabu that was a quick visit within two minutes of being published . A warm thank you for that.

      msorensson, it is a pleasure. Thank you forreading and for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated. Best wishes.

    • msorensson profile image


      8 years ago

      I loved the hub. I am glad people like you take the time to share their expertise and love of nature with everyone. Thank you!!

    • sabu singh profile image

      sabu singh 

      8 years ago

      Thank you for a wonderful Hub D.A.L and the beautiful photographs. It was interesting reading this.


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