Visiting summer birds engage in cruise control to sleep while flying

Did you know that some of our visiting summer birds engage in a form of cruise control and sleep while flying? Just one of the nuggets of information from readers following our piece last week on swallows, swifts and martins.

We mentioned about swift boxes being provided in Newmarket, Co Cork, to enable these birds to breed. The Clare branch of BirdWatch Ireland has similar plans to help arrest the rapid decline in the swift population, mainly due to their difficulty in finding breeding places in cavities in buildings.

Ennis, Co Clare-based Tom Lynch, of Clare BirdWatch, says it’s time to give practical help on nesting sites for homeless swifts which are among the first of our migratory birds to arrive in early spring and the first to depart before the onset of autumn. They come to feast on the crème-de-la-crème of our insects.

“Swifts live most of their lives in the air and only come into contact with terra firma to nest. They sleep on the wing,’’ says Tom.

“At night, cruise control is engaged and swifts glide asleep, safe in their universe. They only land to breed. To do this they are reliant upon finding a cavity in a building higher than three to four meters, gaps under tiles being their favourite.

"Each year, fewer swifts find breeding places, with older buildings being renovated. In effect, many new buildings are swift-proof but there are things we can do to help address these issues. New buildings can have swift nest boxes built into gable walls or externally under eaves.’’

Swifts are most active in July and anyone who knows of swifts nesting in their area is asked to email

The local BirdWatch branch hopes to install swift boxes on suitable buildings next spring so this information is vital for the project to succeed.

Last week, meanwhile, BirdWatch Ireland took Princess Takamado, of Japan, honorary president of the global conservation partnership, BirdLife International, on a tour around the islands off the coast of north, Co Dublin.

A keen birdwatcher and an accomplished nature photographer, she had expressed an interest in seeing and photographing puffins and other seabirds during her visit to Ireland.

The birdwatching party made its first stop in the waters off Ireland’s Eye where the princess photographed her first puffins. The group also had excellent views of gannets, Ireland’s largest breeding seabird at their colony on the island, one of only six such gannet colonies in Irish waters.

The party then landed on Lambay Island where, in addition to viewing puffins at close quarters, Princess Takamado also observed other seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, kittiwakes, and shags.

On Rockabill Island, she saw one of our rarest breeding seabirds, the roseate tern.


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