Thursday, 28 July 2016

Colossal Swift Colony in Clonmel

Swift chasing insects Kevin Collins

Earlier in the month, we teamed up with the Tipperary Heritage Office and Tipperary Branch of BirdWatch Ireland to go looking for Swifts in Clonmel.

Arriving at the venue for the talk, St. Mary’s GAA Centre, groups of Swifts could be heard screaming overhead before even getting out of the car. With the sun splitting the stones and hardly a breath of wind, It was shaping up to be a great evening for Swifts.

Sky full of Swifts Brian Caffrey

A group of keen Swift enthusiasts arrived for a talk on Swifts, including representatives from Clonmel Tidy Towns and Tipperary Tidy Towns. Following the talk we were guided by Kevin Collins of Birdwatch Ireland Tipperary Branch, towards South Tipperary General Hospital, which revealed a truly impressive site – a sky literally filled with screaming Swifts. A quick count (not an easy job, when dealing with Swifts!) estimated 100 Swifts visible in the air over the hospital and GAA Centre in a single count.

Dan Hogan, Kevin Collins & Malcom Turner observing the swifts
Brian Caffrey
Kevin, who has monitored this Swift colony for many years could point out one building in particular, ‘The Community Care Building’ which was the hub of the nesting colony – with up to 50 pairs nesting in this building alone. The unusual design of the ventilation gaps in the soffit of the building have created an ideal home for Swifts to nest.

The colossal Swift colony at South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel
Brian Caffrey
Feeding time, adult Swift with full "bolus" Kevin Collins

This is undoubtedly one of the largest colonies of Swifts in Ireland and a truly wonderful spectacle to watch and hear the aerial antics of the Swifts overhead on a summers evening.

We are still looking for your swift nest sites and if you are aware of any colonies be it of one or fifty breeding pairs we want to hear from you!

You can log your nest sights Here

or email us on 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Swift Start to Survey Season

Last year the BirdWatch Ireland Swift Team carried out Swift survey work on behalf of the OPW (Office of Public Works) at a number of their heritage sites around the country.

Swifts in the summer sky Pauline Skoczylas

Swifts are traditionally associated with old and historic buildings as they provide nesting opportunities which the birds exploit. Modern buildings lack the same opportunities, as modern building techniques and materials make these buildings unsuitable for nesting Swifts.

Last season (summer 2015) we completed survey work at Kilkenny Castle, Portumna Castle, Roscrea Castle/Damar House, Clonmacnoise and Kilmainham Gaol. To our delight, with the exception of Kilmainham Gaol all sites had nesting swifts. The size of the colonies varied from one nesting pair at Clonmacnoise right up to twelve nesting pairs confirmed at Kilkenny Castle.

Common Swift on wall close to nest hole Artur Tabor

Not alone did last seasons surveys prove the "historic building" rule but it also discovered one very unusual nest site. One pair of swifts had nested at waist height within the wall of the round tower at Clonmacnoise. I wonder what the monks would think of that having managed to keep the Vikings out of their tower for all those years! Footage of the Swifts visiting their nest within the wall of the round tower can be viewed here.

Swift Nest Location at Clonmacnoise Brian Caffrey

This year we have embarked on another round of Swift site surveys on behalf of the OPW and we took advantage of the good weather in late May to kick things off. This year we are visiting Ennis Friary (Co.Clare), Athenry Castle (Co.Galway), Emo Court (Co.Laois) and Trim Castle (Co. Meath) during the months of May, June and July. Our survey visits will ascertain if these heritage buildings are suitable for nesting swifts and whether or not swifts are currently nesting at the sites.

Swift survey at Ennis Friary (from the garden looking onto the Chancel) Brian Caffrey

The early visits tend to tell us more about the viability of the sites and a suggestion of whether Swifts might be nesting there rather than giving us hard evidence. We are in the middle of visit number two to each of the sites and will report back soon with a new blog post in the coming weeks.

In the meantime if you are familiar with any of these sites, other OPW heritage sites or have any Swift nest records please log them on our new online mapping tool here.

For more information on Swifts see our Swift Project Pages or email the Swift Team at:

Friday, 10 June 2016

A Saints Blessing for Banagher's Swifts

Today we met the students and teachers from St Rynaghs National School in Banagher Co. Offaly, only a stones throw from the BirdWatch Ireland Banagher office. The school has partnered up with Banagher Tidy Towns Group to help conserve Swift populations in this small town.

In the early spring Banager Tidy Towns Group planned and coordinated their Swift Nest Box Project. With funding from the Heritage Council and Offaly County Council they bought and erected 5 top of the range Schwegler nest boxes. The work was enthusiastically carried out by local FAS and TUS scheme participants.

Schwegler Swift Boxes at St Rynaghs NS, Banagher Ricky Whelan
The project aims to help Swift populations locally by providing safe and permanent nesting places for these summer visitors whilst bringing the species right into the heart of the three local educational facilities. As well as the Swifts, St Rynaghs NS, Banagher College and Banagher Further Education Center have all benefited from the project.

Swift Boxes high up on St Rynaghs Tower Building Ricky Whelan
During today's visit to Ms Keenaghan's second class we hoped to inform and inspire the class pupils on the importance of protecting Swifts and our environment. The class went on an Urban Safari to observe the towns Swifts go about their daily business. We looked at older buildings suitable for nesting birds and compared them to more modern buildings that for the most part nullify the opertunity for nesting swifts. We discussed all the amazing facts about the species and talked about the various threats they face and why we need to protect their breeding places.

Q & A Session back in class Ricky Whelan
Typical of Ireland, our Swift Safari got cut short by rain showers so we retreated back to the school for an in-dept "questions and answers" session with the pupils. The pupils really had grasped the topic and had lots of very interesting (and difficult) questions.

We hope the second class pupils will become real ambassadors for Swifts and help spread the word to their friends and families for a long time to come. Fingers crossed that their boxes will have some residents in the near future and we will blog any updates in the future.

Thanks to St Rynaghs Principal Mr McMahon, class teacher Ms Keenaghan and all the pupils for their enthusiasm and for making the visit so enjoyable.

For more information on Swifts and how you can help them see our Swift Project Page here.

To record a swift sighting or nesting location click here.