13th May, 2019
Hurrah! The swifts are back!
It's a cry that goes up usually in the first week of May. This year they are a tad late. Maybe this is due in part to the unseasonably cold weather. After all, why fly 4,000 miles from toasty Africa to cold East Anglia to suffer our raw East winds?
Granny spotted them from an upstairs window and couldn't wait to get outside to hear their screaming, joyous arrival. We had seen a solitary bird a couple of days ago so reckoned he had jollied his mates along to join him.
What Granny and Hubby have trouble grasping with these long-distance travellers are the sheer logistics involved. With a brain that can hardly be the size of a pea, a swift can negotiate its way accurately across continents and oceans to the precise tile on our roof where it hopes to re-establish its nest. In my estimation, it's far more impressive than the vast technological tracking efforts of NASA or Google Earth!
These birds rarely roost or rest, eating, sleeping and mating on the wing. In fact, their legs are so small from disuse as to be almost unusable. Even when feeding young under the tiles they enter the site at full pelt and are out again in a flash. The young emerge in about five weeks fully-fledged and equipped for the return flight to sub-Saharan Africa by the end of August.
That's when the silence dawns on us. One day they are here screeching and wheeling like winged aerial lunatics chasing each other across vast open skies, then they are gone and our hearts go with them for we know the end of summer is just over that far horizon they have just left behind them.
Note: In English Heraldry, Swifts, Swallows and Martins are depicted without legs as it is thought they did not possess any! On a family Coat of Arms it is used a mark of cadency and represents the fourth son.