Information sheet from Londonís Swifts website
Swift First Aid and Carers
Swift casualties can be saved - with luck and commitment
Swifts have a relatively low accident and mortality rate compared to other birds their size, but sometimes things go wrong and they fall to Earth. The reasons for this are usually:
the nestplace is too hot and a chick jumps out
the nestplace has been destroyed by roofers or builders
starvation - the nestling is desperate for food
accidents - the nestling just falls out
failure of their first flight
overweight at time of first flight
one do anything to help? Yes! First - check the Swift's
Is the Swift an adult (dark brown bird with a pale chin) or a juvenile (much paler looking with white borders to its head and back feathers)?
Are its wings, when closed, longer than its tail feathers by at least 1.5cm? If so it's ready to fly, but first check its weight.
Does it move its wings
symmetrically or is one much less mobile than the
other, or displaced? If damaged the chance of it ever flying is remote.
What does it weigh? Adults should
weigh between 35 and 45g, juveniles ready to fly 40 to 45g. Weigh the
a cardboard box on a letter scale.
Then weigh just the box and subtract the latter from the former giving the Swift's weight.
NB If it's heavier than 45g it's a
juvenile not yet ready to fly.
Keeping it a couple of days somewhere cool and quiet without food until
slims down to 45g
may be all thatís needed for it to fly.
Juvenile Swifts. Note pale edges to the head feathers, the bleached look of
and cheeks, and downy feathers still visible on the left hand bird's
Adult Swifts are dark brown, with just a pale throat.
Taking a decision - can you help your Swift?
Evidence of serious damage probably means the Swift is not going to survive - in any event you cannot help it, and should take it to a vet.
If the Swift is well-developed,
alert, active, and healthy, with the
right weight for its age, it will probably survive and fly.
(Swift weights: at hatching 3g, 10 days 20g, 20 days 45g and still fluffy, 30 days 50g and flight feathers emerging, 40 days 48g and almost ready to fly,
flight usually at 45 days or so from hatching.)
Do you want to get involved? No?
Contact the Swift carers lower down on
If they cannot help, then ask the PDSA, your local Wildlife Centre, vet or the RSPB.
You want to try and save your Swift? Read the following and be ready for total commitment.
NB it is illegal to handle a Swift or keep it in
captivity unless you are licensed by DEFRA, or are caring for an
and intend to release it.
This does mean that you must release your Swift as soon as it can fly, or take it to a vet or the PDSA for humane euthanasia if it can never fly.
Where to keep your
Swift until it can fly.
Put it in a sound clean cardboard box with lots of air holes punched in it, and clean paper towelling on the floor,
(NOT cotton wool - the Swift will gets its claws caught in the fluff!) and keep it somewhere shaded, cool and quiet and CAT-FREE!
The box should be big enough (a minimum of 60cm long and 25cm wide) for the Swift to spread its wings fully and do the "press-ups" that strengthen the flight muscles.
Making it a nest-cup (eg with a small hat or from crushed and shaped blotting paper) will comfort the Swift considerably.
Do NOT keep it in a cage or glass tank - it will be terrified.
How to hold your Swift.
You should wear a clean light glove
to protect the Swift's plumage and
your hand as a Swift's claws are VERY sharp!
Pick the Swift up with your open hand, then very gently close it so that the Swift's head is between your forefinger and thumb, and the rest of the hand holds the body and wings.
Take great care not to put any pressure at all on the bird. You must be gentle, give the Swift space. If you squeeze it, it will be severely injured.
How to release your
If your Swift is in good condition, without any injuries, has tail feathers 1.5cm longer than the tail when closed, is bright eyed and active, and weighs 35 to 45g then
you can release it immediately, provided it isn't raining.
Swifts ready to fly are hyper-active, beating their wings in the box and keen to go.
Take the Swift in its prepared cardboard box to a quiet pet free open space, where you can easily recover it if it fails to fly and where it won't have far to fall if it crash-lands.
If this is not easy for you, test-fly your Swift indoors in a large, uncluttered, safe and quiet room, before releasing in a more confined area such as a garden.
If there are other Swifts aloft that's good. Your Swift will have company.
Take the Swift gently out of the box and hold it above your head (Statue of Liberty style!) and see if it takes off.
It may flutter to the ground but if it seems likely that it can fly give it another go.
If its wings don't work properly it probably won't ever fly, and you should take it to the PDSA or a vet for humane euthanasia.
Feeding your Swift.
If your Swift is not ready for
flight, it must be cared for until it is.
They are pure insectivores, so must be fed only on insects.
You should add Calcium and Vitamins A, B, C and E, which you should find in supplements made for birds (eg "Nutrabol" and "SA37") and reptiles.
These are available at some petshops and from Livefoods Direct who also supply the crickets, dried insects and mealworms mentioned below.
It is important to provide a mix of the suggested foods.
Small food items should be crushed with the supplements and a few drops of water into small balls the size of a hazelnut, then fed to the swift.
This mimics natural feeding by the adult birds.
A "food ball", insects collected in the air and compressed by the adult Swift is about 10mm long. Your feeding should mimic this.
Acceptable food items
Small Mealworms. Crush their
heads before feeding. Feed up to 5 or 6 per
mouthful, 20 worms or more per feeding session, 6 to 8 times per day,
a young chick.
They should not predominate in the diet.
Flies. Buy fishermens'
maggots and keep them in a large well-ventilated,
dry plastic box with crumpled brown paper inside, where they can pupate
hatch into flies.
Alternatively, trap wild flies in a bottle-trap. Chill the flies until they stop moving, and crush them together into small balls. When at room temperature again,
dip in water and then into the calcium and vitamin supplement and feed to your Swift. It may need as many as 100 flies a day.
Commercial dried insect food is acceptable provided it is crushed into small food balls, with supplements, a few drops of water and other food items.
Garden insects. Swifts eat greenfly,
other aphids, flying ants,
hoverflies, tiny beetles, small spiders, in fact a very wide variety of
and arachnids, (but not wasps or bees).
You can collect this food by bashing bushes and shrubs over a clean bucket with a small stick. Crush into food balls and feed to your Swift.
Don't do this if you have recently used insecticides in your garden.
NEVER feed a Swift bread, egg, milk, meat, "mince"or petfood - it will kill or deform it. It must ONLY have insects.
Only fully-fit Swifts should be released from high sites. If you have any doubts release at ground level, or test-fly the Swift indoors first.
How to get your Swift to drink.
should be given some water with each meal.
The easiest way is to dip its insect food into water just before
Otherwise use an eye dropper or a small
plastic rod to transfer droplets of water to its beak. The Swift should with luck open its beak to suck in the drop.
How to feed your Swift.
Some Swifts are keen to eat - some appear indifferent.
one carer's tale: I found that the
Swift sat quite comfortably in the"beenie" hat I gave it to nest in,
while placed on my lap or at a table during feeding.
I shookthe mealworms in "Nutrabol" before feeding, in fact they were constantly in the powder so that they fed on the powder to gut load them for the Swift's benefit.
I separated the larger crickets' abdomens from their thoraxes, and used both halves. As for the mealworms I made sure their heads were crushed before feeding them to the Swift.
I would try to pick up 5 worms at a time - this can be difficult for larger fingers. By this time the Swift if healthy should be begging by opening its mouth really wide.
Between each mouthful give it about half a minute to swallow. As they fill up they will lose interest in feeding and refuse to swallow.
I tried to feed it 6 - 8 times a day, not feeding it at night, to replicate life in the wild. A good feeding session would see it eat about 10 crickets and 20 mealworms.
This is relative to size though. The bird will let you know when it is full.
The bird that died had an unhealthy disinterest in feeding towards the end, which was an obvious sign that it was not well, while the bird that successfully flew was always keen to feed.
I would definitely not feed Swifts on any processed foods - it has to be insects. I even went as far as catching big flies and hover flies. I was given some common
fly pupae which were very easy to hatch - just stick them in a dark cupboard at room temperature.
A good sign of the bird's alertness was seeing just how in tune the Swift was. If a bee came into the room it would react instantly to the buzz and its eyes were fixed on the bee.
It would even try to crawl towards the bee.
Remember! Pets and noisy or inquisitive children are incompatible with the calm, safe environment Swifts must have.
Swift Carers - providing advice and help
Bird Sanctuary - this famous sanctuary
is at 46 South Street, Isham, Northamptonshire, NN14 1HP,
(between Kettering &
telephone . e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org They can look after both injured and uninjured Swifts until they are ready for release.
Tiggywinkles - this famous animal
hospital which has a lot of experience
helping Swifts - Tiggywinkles, Aston Road, Haddenham, Aylesbury,
Buckinghamshire HP17 8AF UK
telephone - fax - e-mail email@example.com
J. Wakelam - Mildenhall, Suffolk. Click on the link to contact. Can care for uninjured Swifts until ready for release.
Outside these areas both Tiggywinkles and the RSPB can locate and recommend local carers.
Click here to contact firstname.lastname@example.org or your local RSPB area office for advice.