Ringing Common Swifts
presents several difficulties. The unique way of life of the species
does not make it easy to catch the birds and the lack of suitable rings
for their elliptical section legs makes for further problems.
Handling advice for Swift ringers
• Swifts should only be handled by experienced ringers.
• A calm quiet atmosphere should be maintained.
aid advice for Swift ringers
statistics are available for injuries sustained during swift ringing.
They do happen. When planning a ringing event please take the following
A suitable box with a soft cloth on the base readily to hand for any
Establish where the nearest avian veterinary surgeon is based.
Make sure they are
available and familiar with the advice for injured Swifts by
This initial examination should establish if the casualty has a fatal
Locate the nearest specialist carer and their availability for
the swift will not fly willing from an open hand never throw the bird or
Providing the casualty has not sustained a fatal fracture and suitable
care is available recovery chances are very good.
of the Common Swift is not round, but of elliptical shape and feathered
Photo: G. Kaiser
The following is a
collection of the various experiences and opinions of different ringers,
everyone of whom is a long-term Swift ringer.
Ringing in the field
specialises to in catching flying Swifts. He uses a mist net in his
small town garden. The net is about seven metres high and twelve metres
long and is fixed on pine trees, which are not much bigger than the net.
From May to the beginning of July he catches about 500 Common Swifts
this way. Another good method is to place the nets near a lake with low
herbal vegetation such as Sylibus marianum, which attracts
insects, but any similar place would work as well. He uses recordings of
Common Swift calls to attract the birds down to the net level. The
method of attracting the birds by their own sounds works only with
non-breeding Common Swifts in the trapping area; the breeders are not
interested in these sounds (see how to attract Common Swifts at
The best time period for
ringing flying non-breeding Common Swifts is from the 8th to the 14th
week of the Common Swift calendar (see
colonies, the morning is usually a productive time to catch and ring
Swifts. But flocks of non-breeders can appear in loose formations at any
time, anywhere. Within colonies the best time to catch and ring is in
the morning and evening.
At reservoirs and beside
lakes, a technique called ‘flick-netting’ can be used. Two ringers hold
the poles with the net attached. They hold the net horizontally to the
ground until a Common Swift approaches, then they very quickly raise it
to the vertical catching the Swift in flight. This can be a very
successful method on a summer evening.
For ringing Common Swifts
in the wintering grounds, luck is essential. One should pick a nice damp
day and a tree lined avenue or a similar topographical setting, set a
mist net with one end static and the other end held horizontal by the
ringer. When the Swifts come along on their feeding flights one just
swings the net pole upright and they should fly in.
Ringing on the nest
Ringing at the nest is
both problematic and controversial. In the experience of Erich Kaiser,
the bond of parent Swifts to their nest is highest shortly after egg
laying (5th and 6th Common Swift calendar week). So this would be a
good, but short "window“ to ring the adults and to avoid desertions from
the nest, which would cause the death of the siblings and the failure of
a whole generation. But many other ringers have different experiences
and find certain "ringing windows" not necessary.
chicks are very young and only a few days old, one of the parents may be
found in the nest with them during the day, so it is better to avoid the
early chick period to minimise disturbance. Allon Bear
rings at night because this way it is very likely to ring the whole
family in one visit. A good period is when the nestlings are big enough
but before they are ready to leave the nest. If one or both parents are
missing he keeps on visiting until he has caught them both. About 7% of
the adults left the nest after they were returned after ringing or
control, but no dead chicks were found in the nest in later ringing
rounds, so that one can assume that desertion did not happen.
Mauro Ferri co-operates
with the ringing team of Fausto Minelli and they ring mainly at the
nest. Well before the birds return from Africa to their nests, the nest
sites are cleaned. Trash, debris and carcasses are removed and the nest
site is disinfected with an insecticide specifically for eliminating
ectoparasites on birds. These products can be obtained from veterinary
practices. Non-specific insecticides must not be used.
For this Italian team the
best time to ring breeders on the nest is the 5th to the 8th week of
their stay (see
http://www.commonswift.org/The-Swift-Calendar.html). The approach to
the nest sites should always be done without noise or fast movements.
Every reachable nest site should be checked. The Common Swifts are
caught on the nests between 21.00 and 23.00 hours. In North Central
Italy, this is about 01.30 to 03.30 hours after sunset. Both parent
birds are taken at the same time from the nest. Recovered rings are
controlled and birds with no rings are ringed. The eggs are counted and
noted and when there are already chicks, their age is estimated for a
later ringing. After control and ringing both parents are returned
together, and after the chicks.
The best time to ring
pulli is when they are about 3 to 5 weeks old (10th to the 12th calendar
week; to check the chicks age, see the growth documentation at
http://www.commonswift.org/nestlings_english.html). Preferred time
of day is late afternoon, aiming to cease the ringing activities before
sunset. The approach to the nest sites is again made in silence. Every
nest is checked and the notes from the first visit can be helpful here.
The visit to every nest starts with the adults when they are present; if
they have no ring, they are ringed. The rings of those adults who have
one are controlled, not disturbing them any more than necessary, but
they do have to be taken out from the nest as well to achieve this. The
chicks are ringed and put back on the nest before the adults.
A third ringing effort has
to be made later for missing adults and those chicks that were too young
during the second run.
from handling adult birds at the nest has not been noted by this team.
Dead chicks and adults recovered during the three ringing efforts have
been in all causes caused by Edible Dormice (Glis glis). They
often kill the birds by typically biting them on their shoulders,
leaving the carcasses to mummify inside the nest box, It is not known
why they do this, it is certainly not for food.
Jonkers follows a different concept. After experiencing desertions, he
does not ring birds on the nest anymore. To catch flying Common Swifts
he uses mist nets. The best places are at fish ponds with many insects
and at the times with least wind, and when the Swifts are flying low.
Other good places are near hedges. This netting is done with two people,
each holding a pole of the net.
avoid desertion, Bernard Genton does not ring adults at the nest. He
rings the pulli when they are at least 30 days old between 3 and 4 pm.
At this time the colony is mostly devoid of adults. The non-breeders are
out and the parents no longer have to guard the nest site so are away
from the nest too, feeding.
In the Museum of Natural
History in Oxford George Candelin's team performs nest box checks and
ringing in the late morning on a Saturday every week during the season.
Swifts are aerial birds and it must be difficult for them to come from
the wide open sky into a small enclosure so they are nervous; noise,
light and disturbance will cause desertion until they have gained
confidence. So the team rings the pulli at 5 weeks after hatching (=
14th calendar week); they have found that it is also safe to handle the
adults at this time. Adults on eggs, or with naked and downy young are
never touched as there is a high risk of desertion. Desertion rates for
pairs that are prospecting, nest-building or incubating are about 68%,
but at 5 weeks the desertion rate falls to about 0.1%.
When the young are nearly
ready to fledge (week 5 onwards, see
http://www.commonswift.org/The-Swift-Calendar.html) the adults will
have more confidence and will have a bond with the young so it is safe
to handle them then.
problems of ring design
The elliptically shaped
leg of the Common Swift requires a special ring, not yet available in
all countries or ringing societies. In addition, the
foot of the chick is fatter than the foot of
an adult bird.
In Israel Allon Bear uses
CC rings which are made in Sweden. They fit perfectly to the Common
Swift’s leg. The measurements of the ring are 3.5 x 5.5 x 0.6mm. These
rings are also used in Switzerland. But in
Italy and Germany the local ringing organisations do not employ this
ring. Pierfrancesco Micheloni as well as the Fausto Minelli and Mauro
Ferri team use INFS-Ozzano E. (model W) aluminium rings of 3 mm.
Pierfrancesco Micheloni cuts a tiny piece off from the length. It
is necessary to check the ring after fixing to the foot. It must move
easily and not be too tight; otherwise it could damage the leg.
elliptical section of the Common Swift's leg requires a special ring
Photo: Pierfrancesco Micheloni
INFS-Ozzano E 3mm aluminium ring is
used in Italy. A piece is removed to enable it to fit the Swift's
Photo: Pierfrancesco Micheloni
If the ring does not fit
correctly, it may get lost or slip down and amputate the Common Swift’s
badly-fitted ring has slipped down and deformed the Common Swift’s foot
Photo: Pierfrancesco Micheloni
Germany the ring in common use has to trimmed by 1 mm Photo: Erich
In the UK the BTO uses a
special ring made by Porzana Ltd. of Icklesham in Sussex, which is used
only on the Common Swift and the Kingfisher. They are designed to be
variable in size, and can be shaped to the individual or species. They
are described as 2.5/4.0 mm (i.e. they can be shaped elliptically with a
standard diameter of 2.5 mm x 4.0 mm) but they can be overlapped to
provide a smaller ring if need be. The aluminium alloy used is 4.0 mm
wide and is 0.38 mm thick. The shape is like a number '6' (see photos).
This ring is made of soft aluminium and is rolled onto the leg with the
fingers. It is closed using the fingers or the third hole in the BTO
small ringing pliers. The bird is held in a standard ringer's grip with
the bird's head between the index and middle fingers.
For details of the ring,
please look at
This ring is used about 2500 times a year.
Special rings for Common
Swifts used in Great Britain
British ring is shaped like a number
Photo: George Candelin
ring is very soft and can be closed by using the
fingers. Photo: George
it you first roll in the short end then close the long end over to form
a circle. Photo: George Candelin
In Switzerland ringers use
the special Swedish ring for the Common Swift. It is made of aluminium
with a special alloying which makes it more pliable. It weights 0.09 g
and the sizes are 3.75 mm inner diameter, and breadth of 5 mm. It is
described as "Calibre S".
special ring for Common Swifts used in Switzerland is 13,8 mm long
Photo: Bernard Genton
Swiss ring is 5 mm
Photo: Bernard Genton
Netherlands aluminium rings of the Vogeltrekstation in Heteren are in
use. These rings have a diameter of 3.5 mm with a width of 4.0 mm.
perform the ringing
To ring a Common Swift one
first prepares the ring and opens it so that the leg will fit into the
space available. One then takes the bird into one hand, head towards
oneself. In England BTO ringers are trained to hold the bird with the
head away from oneself. One gently pulls the foot between the 2nd and
3rd finger and slips the ring over it. Then the ring is closed by
pressing it gently with the fingers. One has to be careful so that the
two ends meet each other exactly. Then one clamps the ring shut with the
special pliers. By international agreement chicks are always ringed on
their left foot (seen with the eyes of the ringed bird) and adults on
the right foot. After closing the ring, check the ring by turning it and
by slipping it up and down a bit to see it is closed, movable and not
stuck, and most important, cannot slip down over the foot and cripple
the bird head pointing as shown & take the foot carefully between three
fingertips Photo: Ulrich Tigges
the prepared ring and slip it over the foot, then slightly close
it Photo: Ulrich Tigges
the ring very carefully with the pliers as
the Chicks and Adults
To determine the age of
pulli (chicks) on the nest, see the photographic study of
With the help of the wing
feathers it is possible to establish the age of flying Common Swifts
from the first until the second year. Fledged birds born in the current
year have white edges to the flight feathers and white “scalloping” on
the feathers of the head and body; this wears away during the winter
months and following summer.
The following photos were
all taken in Ancona Province, Central Italy by Pierfrancesco Micheloni,
who also determined the age of the birds.
The individual in the next
two photos is one year old (born the previous year).
hand feathers are not yet moulted
Photo: Pierfrancesco Micheloni
addition, the arm feathers have not yet
moulted Photo: Pierfrancesco Micheloni
This Common Swift is two
primaries have moulted with the exception of the outer one, which is
very worn. Note that the inner feathers are bluish, rounded and
Photo: Pierfrancesco Micheloni
The next two photos show
an adult Common Swift at least three years old.
adult Common Swift (three years
old) Photo: Pierfrancesco
photos the contrast between inner and outer primary is obvious, but the
outermost feather (no. 10) is not so worn as in a two year old bird
Note that an unshed 10th
(outermost) primary is found in 30% of adult Swifts in Europe (APUSlist
In the Americas ringers
face the same problems as in Eurasia. Charles Collins writes that he has
problems with getting "bands" (i.e. rings) for Swifts. A larger diameter
band is required to fit the thick, but short, Swifts' legs but as these
rings are far too long they have to be cut down. This has to be done for
both White-tipped Swift Aeronautes montivagus in Venezuela and
White-throated Swift A. saxatalis in western North America.
Contributors: Paolo Politi,
Istituto Nazionale per la Fauna Selvatica (Ozzano) Pierfrancesco
Micheloni, Mauro Ferri, Erich Kaiser, Oxford University Museum of
Natural History George Candelin, Jan Holmgren, Gillian
Westray, Schweizerische Vogelwarte
Dr. Matthias Kestenholz, Allon Baer, Bernard Genton, Alan Martin of
Porzana Ltd., Dick A. Jonkers,
Baser, Eric Öhman of I.Ö. Mekaniska AB, Charles T. Collins and Edward
Mayer, who edited the English text.
Manufacturers of dedicated
rings for the Common Swift (Apus apus):
AB in Sweden
Size 3.75 x 4.5 x 0.6 mm means
Stockholm, Sweden = A, Helsinki, Finland = AA, Copenhagen, Denmark =
M, Sempach, Switzerland = S, Bucarest, Romania = TA, Budapest,
Hungary = XA.
Size 3.5 x 3.5 x 0.6 mm means
Helgoland, Germany = 7, Strasbourg, France = A, Brussels, Belgium =
N, Arnhem, Holland = P.
Size 3.5 x 4.5 x 0.6 mm means
Paris, France = AX, Zagreb, Croatia = EA, Prag, Czech Republic = R,
Hiddensee, Germany = SA, Radolfzell, Germany = SX, Madrid, Spain =
V, Aranzadi, Spain = V.
As for Tel-Aviv, Israel they have two sizes. 3.0 x 3.5 x 0.6 = BB
and 3.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 = CC. The last one is not special and is
probably the one used by schemes that have no special ring for
in the United Kingdom
Swift/kingfisher rings 2.5/4.0
They can be shaped elliptically with a standard diameter of 2.5 mm x
4.0 mm but they can be overlapped further to give smaller rings if
needed. The aluminium alloy strip used is 4.0 mm wide and is 0.38 mm