Bird Watching

The Common Swift – Garden Animals

The Common Swift (Apus apus) is an extremely fascinating bird with remarkable flying skills. Although he resembles the swallows, but is not closely related to them. The swift belongs to the family of swifts and is one of ours most common native bird species.

This article is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of the common swift.

Distribution and habitat of the common swift

The common swift is a species of bird found in Europe, Africa and Asia. In Europe, the birds breed in almost every country, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. During the winter months, swifts migrate to warmer regions of Africa to escape the cold temperatures.


Swifts are highly adaptable birds and can be found in a variety of habitats including cities, coastal areas and open countryside. However, they prefer areas with high insect activity in order to find sufficient food.

In cities, they often use buildings, bridges, and other “human” structures as nesting sites. This has led to an increase in their population density in urban areas. In rural areas, they may nest in cliffs, ravines, or caves.

Swifts are very adept at building nests, often using natural and artificial structures to build their nests. These nests can be renewed or expanded every year.

Common swift Klaus Roggel, Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Where do swifts hibernate?

are swifts migratory birds and winter in Africa. In autumn they leave their European breeding grounds and fly south. There they find sufficient food and suitable wintering conditions in warm countries such as Tunisia, Morocco or Senegal.

During the winter, the swifts rest and gather strength for the strenuous flight back to their breeding grounds in spring. This annual migration is an awe-inspiring phenomenon and testament to the adaptability and survival instincts of these small birds.


appearance of the swift

The swift is a small bird with a body length of about 15 to 17 centimeters and a wingspan of about 40 to 44 centimeters. Its weight is about 40 g on average.

The swift has glossy, smooth plumage that is usually brown or black in color, with the exception of the off-white throat patch, which is difficult to see in flight. In flight, the long wings are clearly visible, forming a distinctive “V” shape.

The swift’s head is small and pointed, with a slender beak shape. Viewed from the front, however, the face appears plump; The eyes are large and round, often colored a dark color.

Overall, the swift is a slender, graceful bird with a unique body shape that allows it to glide effortlessly through the air. Its striking flight and glossy plumage make it an interesting bird to watch.

Common Swift Appearance
Klaus Roggel, Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Difference between swifts and swallows

Although swifts and swallows Often confused, there are some key differences between these two types:


  1. Size: Larger than swallows, swifts have a wingspan of up to 44 cm, while swallows only have a wingspan of 25-30 cm.
  2. Physique: Swifts have a slender and long physique with a pointed beak and long tail feathers. Swallows, on the other hand, have a more powerful build and a rounded beak.
  3. Colour: The underside of the swift is shiny black-brown, except for the barely visible throat patch. Swallows, on the other hand, have a beige-white underside, and barn swallows also have a reddish throat color that can be seen from below. In addition, barn swallows can be easily distinguished by their long, deeply forked tail skewers.
  4. Behaviour: Swifts are masters of flight and can move with great speed and dexterity. Swallows, on the other hand, are known for their acrobatic flight maneuvers and their proficiency in catching insects in flight.
  5. Breeding Place: Swifts build their nests in caves and rock crevices, while swallows build their nests in buildings and on walls.
  6. Breeding season: Swifts breed in summer while swallows breed in spring and summer.
  7. Lute: The shrill cries of the common swift differ significantly from the rather inconspicuous “chatter” of the swallows.

In summary, while swifts and swallows look similar, they have important differences in size, body type, behavior, breeding location and breeding season.

Peculiarities of the common swift

The swift has some unique characteristics that set it apart from other bird species.

    1. Flight Ability: The swift is a very skilled flyer and can effortlessly glide through the air without the need to flap its wings. Characteristic is its fast, agile gliding flight, in which the wings are stretched almost horizontally and are only slightly bent downwards. In gliding flight, 20 to 50 km/h are usually achieved, in powered flight 40 to 100 km/h. This makes it one of the best gliders in the world.


  1. Migration: Common swifts are migratory birds, migrating from Europe to warmer regions of Africa every year to avoid the cold winter temperatures. This migration is a remarkable feat and requires great physical exertion.
  2. Nest building: The swift is a gifted nest builder, using both natural and artificial structures to build nests. These nests can be renewed or expanded every year.
  3. Diet: The swift hunts its prey in flight and eats mostly insects. This makes it an important part of the environment and helps regulate insect population densities.
  4. Social behavior: Swifts tend to be solitary animals and spend most of their time alone. However, during the breeding season they can live in large colonies, often containing several hundred nests.
Swift in flight
Imran Shah from Islamabad, Pakistan, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


What do swifts eat?

The swift is a pure insectivore and feeds mainly on flying insects such as mosquitoes, butterflies, beetles and dragonflies. It hunts its prey in flight and catches it with its beak or catches it directly from the air.

During the breeding season, swifts use a lot of energy to hatch their eggs and raise their young. As a result, they hunt more frequently during this time and need to capture more prey.

The swift can also collect its prey on the ground if it lands on a meadow or similar terrain. However, this is rather rare as it mainly hunts in flight.

The common swift’s diet is an important part of its survival strategy and helps it gather enough energy for its demanding lifestyle. However, it is also important to note that declines in insect populations due to land use change and pollution can have a negative impact on the swift’s diet and survivability.

Hunting behavior of the common swift

The hunting behavior of the common swift is characterized by its ability to engage airborne insects at high speed. The common swift uses its good eye-hand coordination and good sense of space to grab prey during flight. It often flies low over meadows and fields to track down and capture insects. Some of its prey is also found on the ground by patrolling along buildings, fences, and trees.

Hunting behavior of the nightjar


Breeding season and breeding behavior of the common swift

The breeding season of the common swift usually begins in spring and lasts into summer. During this time, the females lay one or two eggs in their nesting area, the so-called badger burrow. This can be a crevice in a rock, a cave, or a hollow in a tree.

During the breeding season, swifts are very busy, collecting as many insects as possible to bring to their breeding partners and their young. Both parents are involved in brood care, feeding the young with the insect they have caught.

Young swifts in the nest
Anaxibia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The nest-building behavior of the common swift is also particularly interesting as it frequently renews and repairs its nests each year. This is necessary as the nest material wears down over time and is no longer strong enough to protect the young.

The swift’s breeding behavior is an important part of its survival strategy and helps it keep its species alive. However, it is also important to note that a decrease in available nest sites due to land use change and pollution can have a negative impact on the swift’s breeding ability.

Nest building of the common swift

Nest building is an important part of survival for swifts. These birds build their nests in caves, crevices in rocks and sometimes in buildings. Nest building is usually done by both partners and can take up to a week.

Swifts on house wall, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The nest is made of small sticks, leaves, and other natural materials collected by the swifts. It is built to form a shell in which to lay the eggs.

A special feature of the nest building of swifts is that they hang their nest in the caves and crevices. This allows them to protect their eggs and young from predators while still having access to light and air.

During the breeding season, both partners take responsibility for the nest and for raising the young. They take turns feeding and protecting the nest.

Nest building and nest care are important survival strategies for swifts, helping them safely raise their young and maintain their population.

Threats to the Swift

The common swift is a species-rich bird species, but unfortunately it is also threatened. Here are some of the biggest threats to these birds:

  1. Habitat Loss: Habitat loss, such as wetlands and natural caves, has a negative impact on the population of common swifts. These birds require certain conditions for nest building and wintering.
  2. Climate changes: Climate changes, such as droughts, can result in common swifts’ habitat becoming unsuitable and their food resources becoming scarcer.
  3. Pesticide use: Pesticide use can result in disruption of the food chain and harm to birds.
  4. Predators: Predators such as raptors and foxes can attack eggs and young, threatening the population of swifts.

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