Apus apus

Swifts spend most of their lives in flight, usually landing only to nest. The Museum's tower has hosted a colony of Swifts for many years and they have been studied since 1948. When the young leave the Museum they may fly continuously for three years, until they return as adults to nest themselves.

Although swifts look a little like swallows they are not related. But like swallows they are migratory and British swifts spend the winter in Central Africa. They have long, thin wings for efficient gliding, and a wide gape in their beaks to catch a variety of flying insects. They drink by sipping from the surface of still water while gliding over it.

Swifts are long lived for their size, some living more than ten years. They return to nest in the Museum tower year after year. The males usually arrive first, in late April, and take possession of a nest-box. Females arrive about a fortnight later, laying two to four eggs in late May.

The eggs hatch around mid-June and both parents feed the chicks, bringing them small balls of food consisting of hundreds of tiny insects held together with saliva. The chicks leave the nest around the beginning of August, when their wings have reached full length, to begin their ceaseless flight.

Listen to… Andy Gosler – Lecturer in Ornithology & Conservation

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In 2013, while the Oxford University Museum of Natural History is closed to have the roof fixed, some of the exhibits have sneaked away to the town centre!
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