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What are swifts like?

Swifts are specialised flying birds and, therefore, they have a slender, streamlined and aerodynamic body with long, pointed wings that allow them to perform extraordinary aerial manoeuvres, either to hunt their prey or to perform long flights during migrations. They are black, brown or grey, but may present some white patches. Their eyes are large in relation to the size of their body and their vision is very acute. The beak is short, but the mouth is very wide for them to hunt insects in flight.


What kind of animal is a swift?

Swifts are birds belonging to the order Apodiformes, such as hummingbirds and treeswifts. Within the Apodiformes order, they belong to the Apodidae family, the avian family that comprises the 114 species of swifts that exist in the world.


Where do swifts live?

Swifts exist all over the planet, except in permanently frozen areas. Different species of swifts can be found in different parts of the globe. While some are specific to a restricted area such as an island, others have wide distribution areas that may be more than a continent.


With whom do swifts live?

Swifts tend to live close to other individuals of the same species and it is common to see small feeding flocks. They also seek to nest near of other swifts, thus forming nesting colonies. However, some species, such as the White-rumped Swift, which occurs in Portugal, nest singly.


How long does a swift live?

Swifts have quite a long life for such a small animal! There are records of birds that have lived for over 20 years.

How do they reproduce?

Swifts make their nest with straws and feathers that they pick up in flight and assemble into a small bowl using their saliva as glue. Their nests are generally less complex and structured than those of other birds, serving in most cases only to accommodate the eggs. Other species use abandoned nests of other species to lay their eggs, as is the case of the White-rumped Swift which uses abandoned nests of Red-rumped Swallow. In many species, male and female share responsibility for building the nest, incubating the eggs and feeding the young.


What do swifts eat?

The swifts' diet is based exclusively on invertebrates, mainly insects, they catch in flight.

How do swifts drink?

Swifts drink as they fly, making low flights over the surface of water in lakes, rivers or even pools.

How do they communicate?

Swifts have very characteristic calls, which sound like screams, which they use to communicate among themselves. In one of his works, Aquilino Ribeiro calls swifts "squeakers" in a clear allusion to their high-pitched calls. Being social birds they emit these sounds to affirm their presence to the rest of the group, while hunting or during migrations. The chicks also make a call that aims to ask their parents for food.

How fast can a swift fly?

Swifts spend most of their time in flight and are some of the fastest birds in the world. The Common Swift, a common bird in our cities, can fly at over 100km/h, but some larger swift species have recorded speeds of up to 170 km/h.

Do all swifts migrate?

No! Some species remain on the same territory all year round. In Madagascar, for example, the Alpine Swift populations are resident, which means that they spend the whole year on the same territory. Even so, resident populations may carry out some short-distance movements, notably to areas of lower altitude.

Why do swifts migrate?

Migratory swifts migrate to ensure food availability. In the colder months they look for warmer places where the insects on which they feed are available.

What distances do swifts travel during the migration?

It varies greatly between species and even between populations of the same species, but some swifts travel more than 20,000 kilometres during their annual migrations.

How long do they go without landing?

Swifts eat, drink and sleep in flight for several months without landing. The proven record for longest time in flight belongs to a Common Swift that spent 10 consecutive months in flight.

Are they threatened birds?

No! Most swifts are still relatively common. However, there is a sharped decrease in the number of swifts, as with other insectivorous birds, which is very worrying!

Why are they important?

Swifts play a key role in controlling invertebrates such as those found near our homes or near crop fields. Without swifts and other insectivorous animals, these invertebrates could cause enormous damage by destroying crops. They also prevent the transmission of diseases that have mosquitoes as their main vectors, such as dengue fever or malaria.


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