Bird lover builds 27,500 swift nest boxes!
Check out this awesome achievement…
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…
What are swifts?
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!“
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.”
John celebrated his 80th birthday in January 2022 – by building his 30,000th box! Amazingly, he estimates that the boxes will have housed more than 60,000 swifts.
What are swift nest boxes like?
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!
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!”
Why not buy a swift nest box online, or build your own? Then next year, these awesome birds might come to visit you, too!