The swifts are back!

My first sighting occurred on 27th April, the earliest date I have ever recorded their return when I spotted a pair flying high above the garden.

Then two days later, as I walked by the lake in Wimbledon park around a hundred swifts were hurtling over the lake and around nearby trees accompanied by a few house martins . Having just arrived, the birds were urgently topping up energy reserves after their epic flights after which they will disperse throughout the country to their chose nesting sites.

In fair weather, swifts normally hunt aerial plankton including spiderlings and flies quite high up, while house martins use the middle air and swallows hunt over water and meadows below.

However on dull days flying insects stay low and on a few memorable occasions I have stood in the middle of large expanses of grass in Richmond park and on Wimbledon common surrounded by large flocks of swifts speeding around me at head height with open beaks audibly snapping shut as they snatched up a flying insect, funnelled into their mouths with the help of surrounding stiff bristles.

Our forefathers called swifts 'devil birds' because of their screeching calls and mysterious life style.

When fledglings leave their nests for the first time they remain constantly airborne for up to three years before eventually nesting. They sleep, mate and feed on the wing and if they accidentally touch ground they struggle to take off again prevented from doing so by their long curved wings and useless atrophied legs that can only be used to cling onto their nest ledges.

For me, swifts symbolise the summer season for their brief three month's stay with us.