John Stimpson from Cambridgeshire has been building swift nest boxes since he retired 13 years ago! Nat Geo Kids caught up with him to learn all about these barmy birds, and why they mean so much to him…

It’s John!

swift nest boxes | john holds up his 27000th nest box as swifts fly past behind him

What are swifts?

swift nest boxes | a swift flying

Swifts are speedy little birds that travel to the UK every summer, all the way from Africa!

“They’re constantly in the air,” John tells us excitedly. “They don’t land, except to nest – and during the first three years of their lives, before they’re old enough to breed, they never stop flying. They can even sleep on the wing!

swift nest boxes | a swift flies up under the eaves of a roof, towards a small gap
This swift is trying to nest underneath a modern roof!

In days gone by, swifts used to breed in the nooks and crannies of British rooftops, settling in under the eaves. But sadly, modern houses aren’t built with swifts in mind…

“I’ll be 80 soon”, John says, “and I remember that when I was younger the streets were absolutely alive in early summer with swifts, swallows, and house martins. Sadly, these amazing birds are rapidly declining now, because there are so few places for them to nest.”

How John helps!

When John retired 13 years ago, he went to a talk by a swift conservation charity. After hearing that the birds were struggling to nest, John decided he’d do something to make a difference. So, he started hand-making swift nest boxes in his garage!

“I’ve made about 27,500 boxes now”, John tells us proudly. “They go all over the British Isles, and to other European countries as well! When I first started, I could make three in a day – but now I make about 100 a week. I’ve got a bit quicker, over time!”

From buying the timber, to making the box and then selling it, it all happens out of John’s garage – what an achievement!

“I get a tremendous amount of pleasure from making them”, John explains. “I love seeing where they’re all going, too! Swifts return to their original nest site year after year, so hopefully, each family will return to the same box to raise their chicks safely in the future.”

What are swift nest boxes like?

two sifts fly by through the air

Swifts have pretty specific nesting requirements, thanks to their love of life on the wing.

“A swift nest box is a very simple affair, it’s just feathers and down, which they take straight out of the air!” John says. “They’re very clean birds, and keep their nests tidy – so people don’t need to worry about their droppings falling on floors or cars.”

John tells us that as a result of this, their nest boxes look a bit different from those you’d have for typical garden birds like starlings or blackbirds…

“The swift boxes are long rectangles with very narrow entrances so that the birds can just fly straight in. Swifts swoop into the boxes at great speed, so they have to be super accurate! It’s amazing to watch.”

How to spot swifts near you!

swift nest boxes | a flock of swifts against a blue sky

These awesome birds tend to arrive at the beginning of May every year, but you need to keep your ears open, as well as your eyes, if you want to spot one…

“To spot a swift, you need to do a lot of walking around with your head in the air, looking up at the sky!” John laughs. “It can be in the countryside or in the towns – sometimes you’re most likely to see them where there are a few buildings, as they’ll gather there in small flocks. And they’re screaming, so listen out! Swifts are known as the ‘devil bird’ because of their shrill calls, it’s a fantastic thing to hear. As I say, at 80 years old, I’m still really enjoying it!”

SWIFT TIP!

Why not buy a swift nest box online, or build your own? Then next year, these awesome birds might come to visit you, too!

Illustration ⓒ Malik Jagucki.

What do you think of John’s amazing swift nest boxes? Let us know in the comments!

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COMMENTS

  • hugo

    great!!!!!!!!!

  • Ted

    Yeah let’s make bird houses

  • Zara

    this was really cool and awseome i loved it! Nat geo is the best!

  • Ashley

    Awesome John I never have heard of an amazing person like you! lets take action national geographic kids by building more swift nest boxes

  • Lakeisha

    Cool

  • Dan

    Nice

  • Ashley

    Go John lets build swift nest boxes

  • This is so cool I love Nat geo

  • locksniff

  • OwainYinBeale

    so cool

  • A girl who’s named Emma

    Let’s take action

  • Viv

    I love Nat geo

  • Alex

    So cool

  • shawn

    very kind and good

  • dirigible ferret

    dude I love Swift's

  • GG

    Awesome job John. What your doing is awesome for the environment.

  • lillian13095

    wow

  • UYTIUTIUTI

  • a boy

    I wish i could create one

  • A person

    I want a box!

  • Noah

    That man is pretty cool for saving the bird.

  • Zuzu

    Nice

  • Flying sibirian tiger

    sooo cool

  • Audrey

    Cool l love birds and Dinosaurs

  • Pangolin32

    Swifts are one of my favourite birds

  • cup of odd looking salt

    That man is a hero!

  • RadenArkan

  • William 7

    I love swifts they are amazing animals traveling from Africa.

  • Ruby

    I really like all this information National Geographic kids. It inspires me to look after nature

  • Varsha

  • Mrbeast fan

    I love birds

  • So sweet

  • ANON

    Cool

  • A.m.m

  • That a really good idea and it might even bring them back from declining.

  • Nicola

    Fab How do we order one?

  • Mary Hodgson

    Just seen on the lunch time news, it’s amazing how do you purchase a swift box? Many thanks Mary x

  • erik

  • Sheila F.

    I think this man has done such a wonderful thing in making these bird boxes. If I thought that swift’s, swallows or housemartins would come into our garden, I would definitely buy one of these boxes.

  • Sophia

    This is cool! I want to have a swift nest box! This also needs more likes! It only has TWO! I did the second like.

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