What should you do when you find a young swift fallen from its nest? Unlike sparrows, swift parents abandon their young ‘drop-outs’. However, when people hand them over to BirdLife Malta, the NGO’s team take care of them until they are able to survive alone. This summer, BirdLife Malta received a record number of 10 swifts (both of the Common and Pallid variety), found by members of the public. The young fledglings out of the nest were then cared for round-the-clock by BirdLife Malta staff and volunteers until they were strong enough to be released.
If young swifts are not lucky, they fall prey to cats and other predators, or starve. But should humans intervene in what may look like a process of natural selection? “We only act when our help is necessary and, in the case of baby birds, it will depend on the species,” Sandra Maria Cuevas, BirdLife’s conservation assistant, told Eve. “In some species, like sparrows, falling from the nest is part of the natural growing process and the parents keep feeding the young after this, so in this situation we wouldn’t act. However, with swifts, the parents abandon the fallen chicks, so we try our best raising the young birds and giving them one more opportunity.”
Swifts are insect-eaters, so it is in the public interest to help them feel at home in Malta. “They can eat 60 insects per hour, which means around 800 insects per day,” Sandra Maria Cuevas explains. When a swift family is tending for their young, they can remove as many as 3,000 mosquitoes and flies from your environment.
Some decades ago the two main species of swifts weren’t a frequent sight. According to BirdLife, the first confirmed nesting occurred in 1997 at Marsascala, and no breeding swifts were found for the following 10 years. Then in 2007 swifts returned to breed again. This species now visits us each year to nest in areas like Mdina, Sliema, St Julians and San Ġwann.
Swifts eat as they fly and are constantly on the move. The moment they leave the nest they start their migration to Africa. So it is a demanding task for BirdLife team and volunteers to make sure the fledglings exercise their wings after each meal to be ready for the globetrotter lifestyle. Survival rate is around 70%. “After two to three weeks with us, the little swifts who found themselves in our care were strong enough to go back into the wild and start their journey towards Africa. We ringed and released them and will now be waiting for them to return next spring,” BirdLife Malta has announced.
Sandra Maria Cuevas of BirdLife warns concerned individuals against taking up this task by themselves. “Even with the best of intentions, [non-professionals] can cause more harm that benefit to the bird (e. g. if they feed it with something they cannot digest, as it happens with bread). During the raising process, we try to avoid human contact […] and keep them in an adapted cardboard box that emulates natural swift nests, and we provide vertical surfaces that they can grab, so they are able to practice climbing as well as exercising their wings.” BirdLife Malta then releases them near active colonies and observes how the ‘drop-outs’ join the group.
BirdLife Malta is inviting everyone to report finding a stranded or injured bird on 2134 7645/6 during office hours and on 7925 5697 after office hours.