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The Swift. A Bird to Whom The Sky Has No Limits.

Updated on May 3, 2012

Birds that are the scourge of flying pests

Swift on nest in a chimney
Swift on nest in a chimney
Swallow, a more beautiful yet prosaic bird
Swallow, a more beautiful yet prosaic bird
Underdeveloped feet of the Swift
Underdeveloped feet of the Swift
Common Swift in Flight
Common Swift in Flight

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!

 


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    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      KInd of you to visit and comment, Shyron

      Bob

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Interesting hub. Well written and interesting.

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Oooo! Everyone equates everything to sex! I ain't alone, dear.

      Thanks for nice words and visit.

      I am moving this week, but only next door I see you have been busy and will look at your articles after brekky

      Bob

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      6 years ago from North Texas

      Interesting hub. Very informative. I like birds that eat insects. Believe we have chimney swifts here in the states. Seem to remember my mother talking about them and here in the states they do remain airborne during daylight hours.

      Nice photo. Makes you look even younger -- maybe 52 or so. Know age and looks are the most important thing to men. Seems too, that men do in fact equate everything to sex . . . sorry to hear you are under the weather . . .

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Will Only too happy to oblige.

      Vocal coach. Thanks for visit

      Bob

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      Bob = Thanks for this hub and what I have learned from it. Up!

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 

      6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks for adding your kind words, Bob.

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks Will. Sad to hear about your friend. I trust all will be OK.

      Bob

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 

      6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Thanks for the education, Bob! I knew little about this series.

      Excellent!

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Bobbi. I try, if it amuses me, I think someone else might like it. But I research this stuff, I'd be a walking encyclopedia if I knew it all. I often learn just as the readers do - like with the swift

      Bob

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 

      6 years ago from New York

      Very interesting hub. You must do a lot of research and bird watching. I love to watch birds and enjoy finding out interesting and fun facts. Loved this hub! I give it the Audubon Approval. :0) You come up with some pretty interesting topics.

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Faith: It is an interesting chappie. I might do some more hubs on interesting birds after the interest over the Swift.

      Take care, Faith

      Bob

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      Very intersting hub. I love just to sit on my porch and watch birds in action. Did not know all of this on the swift. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Oh...I spoke out of turn! Neither am I, though I tried a few times; maybe it would be easier in first class.

      Then there is the other age old question, why not?

      Seriously, though, whenever evolution has seen a niche it tailors a lfe form to fit it. From the deepest trenches in the seas to the thinest air. Why it made humans is the perplexing question.

      Bob

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Lol...that will be a long wait since I am not of a member of the mile high club. I was amazed that swifts are, so to speak, and with their endless flights; they prompt that age old question: Why?

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Genna Hi. How about a hub of your experiences at that altitude!

      Can't wait

      Bob

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Related to hummingbirds – now that was surprise. I also never knew that any birds were also members of the mile high club. But to stay aloft for so long? The photo of the underdeveloped feet of the swift is amazing.

      “In folk legend the poor little swift has sometimes been feared, calling it the Devil Bird…aren’t blasted humans ridiculous?”

      Lol...yes, sometimes.

      Superb write, and a fascinating read, Bob.

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks Tilly. Not really into birds more than all the other wonderful creatures which remain on the planet. We have to make the most of them while they survive.

      Swifts are very interesting. Imagine taking your daily shower in a rain cloud!

      Bob

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      Seems you are onto birds! This is another interesting hub with little known facts.."they mate while flying:, "their legs have atrophied over evolutionary time and are now stumpy and weak"...thoughts to ponder on the life of these birds. Phots are a nice addition.

      Voted up and interesting.

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Healthy Pursuits.

      I love these little guys with their wonderful independence from the ground. They might survive while ground dwellers perish in the future.

      Thanks for the visit

      Bob

    • Healthy Pursuits profile image

      Karla Iverson 

      6 years ago from Oregon

      What a great read! Thank you. It was packed with great information. That they actually sleep while they're flying is so fascinating. I also find the idea that they roost so seldom that their feet are becoming under-developed a great example of how evolution can make the oddest characteristics.

    • diogenes profile imageAUTHOR

      diogenes 

      6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi aviannovice. Great little guys, aren't they? Not as pretty as swallows, but more interesting. The only thing that comes near them in my mind is the Stormy Petrel.

      Bob

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Great story with wonderful knowledge. I didn't know about their feet and legs. There are some here and I always wondered why they were on the move so much. Occasionally, they will sit on high wires, which is how I got pictures of them.

    • profile image

      diogenes 

      6 years ago

      Hi Joos. There are more than 30 different family members of the swifts and are spread world wide. You may have some, it's seeing them is the problem.

      Bob

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Interesting hub Bob. The fact about their underdeveloped feet is remarkable, just goes to show how evolution works. We get martins and swallows but I don't think I've ever seen a swift in my neck of the woods. Amazing to think that they're like a little 'stealth' bird, their shape built for optimum hunting and catching.

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