the suburbs of Portsmouth there were very few breeding Swifts with only 1-2
pairs known in 1999. Thus, to Graham Roberts big surprise on 6th July 1999
three Swifts suddenly started prospecting the front of his 1930s house. He had
not witnessed such behavior in his neighborhood for over 20 years. Being
anxious to do all he could to encourage these Swifts, that night Graham
drilled a hole through the gable weatherboard leading to a nestbox in the
loft. He made a small viewing hole in the side of the nestbox enabling him to
sit in the loft peering quietly inside. The Swifts took to the nestbox
immediately and within five days there was a feather and thistledown nest at
the back of the box. At least one, and usually two, Swifts roosted in the
nestbox nightly from 10-28 July, the date they were last seen.
nestboxes in Graham Roberts' loft in Portsmouth. The hole at the back of the
nestbox on the right is for
an infra-red video camera. The other nest boxes have perspex backs with
sliding wooden doors (removed for
the photograph) to enable close observation.
During the following winter Graham made a number of adaptations to the nestbox
to enable closer study of the Swifts should they return to breed in 2000. The
nest was carefully protected with a polythene cover. An infra-red video camera
was installed at the back of the nestbox on a sliding door. The camera, with
inbuilt microphone, was wired to a TV screen and video recorder. One side of
the nestbox was also removed and replaced with a hinged door.
This photograph, taken on 1st May 2000, shows a nestbox being adapted to take
an infra-red camera in a hole in
a sliding door at the back of the box (on right in photograph). The feather
nest was built in July 1999 in preparation
for the following season when the Swifts first bred.
Camera set-up plus chick. Infra-webcams positioned above and behind the nest.
It shows a three week old chick
plus one of two addled eggs. 9th July 2000.
8th May 2000, Graham turned on the camera and much to his delight a Swift,
busily preening at the back of the nestbox, appeared on his TV screen. The
second adult returned on 12th May. By 27th May they had a full clutch of 3
eggs. During a brief period when both adults were away from the nest, Graham
cut a small hole in the nestbox and installed a second infra-red video camera
directly above the nest. With two cameras, each linked to a TV, Graham was
able to closely observe events at the nest. A video was used to record events
when Graham was at work and capture highlights on film. Only one of the three
eggs hatched in 2000, but it grew very rapidly and fledged successfully.
full clutch of 3 eggs. 27th May 2000
pair, presumably the same individuals as in 1999 and 2000, bred again
successfully in 2001 raising three young. Again Graham used the two infra-red
cameras to observe and record events on video. However, in addition he linked
the cameras to a computer (through a WinTV-USB device from Hauppauge) thus
enabling him to watch the Swifts live on his p.c. monitor and at the click of
the mouse capture digital images on his hard drive. Examples of a selection of
Grahams photographs are shown.
Adult feeding chicks, now only a few hours old. Third
egg (not visible) about to hatch. 17th June 2001
All three eggs hatched. The chicks are now 2-4 days
old. 20th June 2001
Chicks now five weeks old. There is a third chick, which was noticeably
hidden in the background. The entrance hole, at the far end of the nestbox, is
obscured by a baffle inserted to produce a better picture with the infra-red
webcam. 23rd July 2001
2000, daylight entering the nestbox through the entrance hole had caused
over-exposure of the infra-red camera facing this light source. However, when,
as often happened, one of the adults wedged itself in the entrance to watch
the world outside, the picture was perfect. Thus, as a refinement, a wooden
baffle (visible in some of the photographs) was positioned inside the nestbox
90mm from the entrance hole.
having eight Swift nestboxes, Graham has not yet attracted any other pairs to
breed. Occasionally 1-3 outsiders join the resident pair in a screaming party
but never enter a nestbox. Graham hopes that a colony will develop in time.
Roberts is actively involved in Swift conservation work in Hampshire and
Sussex, Southern England. As leader of the Sussex Ornithological Societys
Swift Conservation Project, he has co-ordinated a Sussex Breeding Swift Survey
and been promoting the wider use of nestboxes.