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The Swift. A Bird to Whom The Sky Has No Limits.
Birds that are the scourge of flying pests
It's Called Swift with Good Reason
The swift might be considered a harbinger of better weather in temperate Europe, if it was easy to see them. It isn’t, and the migratory swift is one of the most elusive and interesting birds on Earth.
Superficially, Swifts resemble Swallows and Martins, but this is misleading as they are of a different family all together and are actually related to Hummingbirds!
We have seen in the previous article about Swallows that they occupy the layers of space near the ground in order to hunt the larger insects found there. Above them are the House and Sand Martins which are after the smaller insects.
Above them all is one of the world’s greatest aerialists and avian acrobats, the Swift, of which there are many family members.
That little was knows about swifts until recently is because they stay up there! From the young nestling taking his successful first flight, for three years, until they return to earth to nest, the swifts hunt, sleep, bathe and even mate on the wing.
Yes, they mate while flying, the only bird in the world observed to do so. The male drops onto the female and both fall towards the ground uttering cries of enjoyment. Like you and the missus having sex while skydiving! (I believe this has been done). The coupling finishes before they crash, and the pair rocket upwards again. And we mean rocket! A couple of the family members can reach nearly 170 kp/h. That’s faster than any other bird in level flight. (The Peregrine Falcon attains its record speed in a dive).
People marvel, “How can they stay up there even sleeping!? There is little photographic evidence of them doing this, but they do stay aloft, so it is assumed they use thermals and updrafts over cities, using their large wing area like kites.
So comfortable are swifts living in the air, their legs have atrophied over evolutionary time and are now stumpy and weak. Which is why the new arrivals have to make it first time, if they fall to Earth from the nest, their weak legs leave them unable to take off again.
That they appear similar to Swallows and Martins, in the Passerine Family, is because of Convergent Evolution, a natural phenomenon which deserves its own article.
Very simply, it means they are similar because of how they feed; they both hunt flying insects and this type of shape does this best. (Which is why many disparate fish families all look like torpedoes)
Swifts dart all over the sky like bats, scooping up all sorts of wind-borne protein, from insects to gossamer spiders and plankton. They can store food in balls in their mouths to feed young during their breeding season.
Their nests are found in towers, old houses, even trees, and many nest boxes have been provided for them in high rise buildings, some of which they regularly use.
In folk legend the poor little swift has sometimes been feared, calling it the Devil Bird…aren’t blasted humans ridiculous?
Maybe it crapped on a few deserving heads!