Swift action in Cottenham

Swift boxes designed and built by Dick Newell have now been installed by firefighters from Cottenham Fire Station on the new Village Hall and the sports pavilion with plans to install additional units.

Swift in flight, Apus apus
Dick Newell with one of the multistorey Swift boxes now installed in Cottenham’s sports pavilion

The wooden boxes blend in well with the buildings offering executive homes for our summer visitors and augmenting the swift bricks that already form part of the fabric of the new Village Hall. The boxes have a smooth slot through which these slick and speedy birds can fly to build their nests.

Retained firefighters from Cottenham Community Fire a Rescue Station

Within each box is a “nest form”, Newell told me. Essentially the nest form is a square of plywood with a hole cut in it. He and his colleagues tested various designs, such as smooth cup-shaped nest forms against this simpler approach and found that the swifts showed no preference, so new boxes are built with the simpler design.

The large box installed in the gable end above the pavilion clock also has an electronic that plays back a recording of swifts calling in flight to encourage new arrivals to approach the boxes and ultimately build their nests within. Newell told me that the birds usually use spit and feathers to construct their nests and once they’ve raised chicks and flown back to Africa for the winter, the remains of the nest will be degraded by insects and mould.

Unfortunately, he adds in recent years, swifts have been found to use fragments of plastic they catch or collect and these fragments simply accumulate in the nest box as with no way for them to be broken down naturally before the next year’s summer visitors arrive.

The first swifts of 2021 arrived on the Cottenham fen edge patch in the latter half of April and more turned up over subsequent weeks with some locals reporting that the birds have taken up residence in nest boxes installed on their houses. It remains to be seen whether the visitors are inclined to nest in the new boxes this year, but the village has now offered new housing for the birds. It is their turn to take action.

You can find out more about Dick Newell and Action for Swifts here.