With their forked tails and scythe-shaped wings, swifts herald the arrival of spring in Europe and are seen as the bringers of rain in parts of Africa where they spend their winters. These amazing birds spend almost their entire lives in flight, so much so that their legs are small and too weak to support them for long when perching, explaining why their family name, Apodidae, is taken from the Greek word meaning ‘without feet’. Spine-tailed swifts, also known as white-throated needletails, have been measured as flying up to speeds of 105 mph (169km/h), while common swifts are known to routinely reach speeds of 70 mph (112 km/h).
Although they resemble swallows, swifts are placed in the same order as hummingbirds, Apodiformes, while swallows are of the order Passeriformes. Their similarities are attributed to convergent evolution, a phenomena where differing species develop similar traits due to lifestyle adaptations, in this case their habit of catching insects in flight.
Distances are immaterial to swifts, as they can easily fly 500 miles in a day. Most swifts remain airborne from when they fledge to the first time they breed – a period of roughly four years. It’s been estimated that in a swift’s lifetime it will cover a distance of around 1.28 million miles. They even roost on the wing, circling gently for hours as the two sides of their brains take turns in sleeping. Swifts only nest to raise their young, and are fond of doing so inside roofs of houses. Parents can gather and carry as many as 1,000 insects to feed their young, making them very effective insect controllers. When the fledglings leave the nest, they all take to the skies and so the cycle continues.
When swifts are feeding in the late afternoon, they swoop through the air in a series of aerobatics that are fascinating to watch. As is the case with hummingbirds, swifts are able to rotate their wings in a manner that keeps them fully extended and rigid, delivering power on both the upstroke and downstroke, thereby increasing their speed and maneuverability. No other bird species are able to do this. So if you happen to have the good fortune to see swifts in action, take some time to appreciate their unique characteristics.
Active, curious and playful, lovebirds are very entertaining and often recommended as pets. Measuring only 15 cm in length on average, lovebirds are among the smallest of parrots, but are big in personality and have many of the traits of larger species. They thrive on social interaction and can put on quite a show for their human caretakers with very little encouragement.
As their name suggests, lovebirds crave affection, so if owners are not able to give their pet lovebird plenty of attention or are out most of the day, it’s generally a good idea to get a pair. A reputable lovebird breeder should be able to provide a well matched pair of birds, which is important as they can be aggressive if they don’t get along. It’s never a good idea to put a lovebird with another bird species. Pairs of lovebirds are a delight to watch as they play with and groom one another. Breeding pairs of lovebirds even feed one another, carefully transferring food from one beak to the other. It is an erroneous assumption that pairs of lovebirds will not bond with their human handlers. They may bond more with one member of the family more than others, but a lot depends on how they are handled from the start and they will more often than not respond to positive attention from anyone. They appear to enjoy grooming their favored humans with the same degree of affection shown to one another.
The minimum size of a cage for a lovebird should be 1m x 1m x 1m – but bigger is better. They need a variety of safe (preferably wooden) toys, swings and perches to play on and to chew. Providing a cuttlebone is important as this helps to trim their beaks, which grow continuously, and is also a source of calcium and minerals. They enjoy bathing and sunning themselves as part of their daily routine. It is good to remember that lovebirds that are not getting sufficient stimulation and companionship may exhibit behavioral problems such as aggression and feather plucking. Their immune systems may also become suppressed leading to ill health. But, in general, they are easy to care for.
Your pet lovebird’s diet should consist of a good seed, grain and nut mix, along with fresh fruit and vegetables. They also enjoy edible flowers and green weeds, such as dandelion and chickweed. Among the foods to completely avoid are avocado, rhubarb, mushrooms, onions and potatoes.
So, if you’re considering getting a pet bird (or two), lovebirds are a good choice. Just bear in mind that their lifespan is 15 years on average, and they bond for life, so be sure that you want to make a bird part of your household.