Swifts – Living on the Wing

January 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

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.

Uzbekistan Birdwatching Tour 2010

April 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Events

Uzbekistan is a bird watching paradise, with a variety of birds such as Alpine Swifts, Wheatears, Bearded Reedlings, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Rose-coloured Starlings, Common Mynas, Hume’s Short-toed Lark and Paddyfield Warblers, to name but a few, being found throughout the country. The Uzbekistan Birdwatching Tour 2010, which takes place from the 23rd to the 29th of May 2010, will provide visitors with a guided tour to various birdwatching hotspots, including Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent and Chimgan. Tour packages can be arranged around the requirements of bird watching visitors, and is an unforgettable experience.

For more information in regard to this colorful adventure, contact tour organizers on info@birdwatching-uzbekistan.com.

Date: 23 – 29 May
Venue: Various
City: Various
Country: Uzbekistan Birdwatching Tour 2010

Black Swift (Cypseloides niger)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Black Swift (Cypseloides niger), like other swifts, spends most of its time in the air. A nearctic-neotropical migrant bird species, the Black Swift breeds in areas ranging from Alaska to California, Montana and Colorado. During the winter months you will spot them in the tropics. If you are traveling through mountains or near coastal cliffs in the range of the Black Swift you are more likely to see them.

How can you identify the Black Swift? This bird species has the typical swift shape with a cigar-shaped body and crescent wings. The Black Swift is, however, a large and rather bulky swift measuring 7 inches in length. The tail is short with a deep notch. All the plumage is black except for its whitish forehead which is only seen at close quarters. Juvenile Black Swifts are marked by little white flecks. To clarify your identification of this quick moving bird, listen out for its harsh ci-chi-chi-chit call.

Black Swifts tend to be habitat specific, requiring particular conditions for nesting. Their prefered habitat is in forests near rivers. Typically they will nest behind waterfalls or even on wet cliffs and sometimes in limestone caves. These swifts enjoy a nesting environment that is damp, dark and difficult for predators to reach. Another important factor when choosing a nest site is that it must have an easy flyway for entering and leaving the nest. Because of their very particular nesting requirements, Black Swifts’ distribution is very patchy. The nests are constructed in a cup-like shape made of mud, algae and moss. Black Swifts will either nest on their own or may become part of a small colony. The female bird will lay just one egg in June or July which both parents take turns incubating. Incubation lasts about 4 weeks. The young swift will be able to fly at between 45 and 49 days old.

Black Swifts forage whilst flying either singly or in groups. They frequently forage in wide open areas or above the forest canopy in search of small airborne insects. These are certainly fascinating birds that you will want to watch out for.

Chimney Swifts – Natural Insect Control

June 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

If you are having an insect problem then you’d best see what you can do to attract one of nature’s best insect control methods: the chimney swift. This adorable little bird is commonly found throughout the United States – from the eastern seaboard to the Rocky Mountains. This is fortunate news for bird lovers looking for the next bug zapper because, unlike the three other species of swift found in North America, the chimney swift can be found in virtually every corner of the country.

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