Nesting in Britain - the Swift
I used to sleep with my head only a few inches from a swift's nest, divided from it by a thin plaster wall. All sorts of strange rustlings could be heard: not just the flutter and flap of parents arriving, and the mousy cheeping sounds of the young being fed during the day, but strange, protracted movements at all hours of the night. It turns out that the young do a sort of press-up, over and over, as if straining for flight, strengthening their wings for a life in the air.
The moment a swiftlet leaves the nest is a departure without parallel in the natural world. Hauling itself on its tiny feet to the lip, the wings rowing it forward, the young bird pushes itself out into space and falls. Tumbling down, it gains speed, opens it wings, and flies – for the next four years. The wings are too long and the legs too short for a grounded bird to regain the air. There will be no perching, no landfall, nothing but the sky and permanent motion for thousands and thousands of miles. Only when the bird has reached full maturity, and found a mate, will it come down and breed. . .
And what a journey that will be.
One of many things to love - British nature writing.
Horatio Clare has just published A Single Swallow: Following An Epic Migration from South Africa to South Wales (Chatto and Windus), available through the Telegraph.