Red-listed swifts return safely to Trinity’s Museum Building

Posted on: 23 July 2021

Swifts – red-listed in the latest Birds of Conservation Concern review – have returned to nest in Trinity College Dublin’s Museum Building.

The iconic, fast-flying birds nested in the building for many years before disappearing following a period of renovation, which began around a decade ago.

Jamie Rohu, PhD candidate in Geography in Trinity’s School of Natural Sciences, helped initiate their return to the Museum Building by working alongside Trinity’s Estates and Facilities Department, and with Lynda Huxley of Swift Conservation Ireland.

A swift looks on from a nesting site in Trinity’s Museum Building. Image: Brenda Sheridan Photogpraphy 2021.

Back in 2019 Jamie organised the installation of bird calls on the sides of the Museum Building. The calls mimic the sounds made by breeding pairs, thus notifying others that suitable nesting habitat is available at the location.

Earlier this year, when further renovation works were due to begin on the Museum Building that could potentially deter the swifts from returning to nest again, colleagues from Estates and Facilities including Mike Clark and Derek Waters worked carefully with Lynda Huxley to ensure the scaffolding did not interfere with birds access to the air vents in which they nest (see below).

The team worked carefully while placing scaffolding around the building to ensure swifts still had access to nesting sites. Image: Jamie Rohu 2021.






In April 2020, in full pandemic lockdown, GSU President Gisèle Scanlon became a co-caretaker of the Trinity Swift project with Jamie Rohu and facilitated activation of the swift bird callers in the museum building. In April 2021, she activated the bird callers to attract breeding pairs of swifts for PhD Jamie Rohu and Swift Conservation Ireland.

The swift is on the red list of birds of conservation concern in Ireland because its population has declined over 40% in the last 15 years. Swifts are faithful to their nest sites and once they have found a place to nest they will return to it every year for the rest of their lives.

Three nests have now been occupied on the northwest of the building, indicating that efforts to preserve their access have been successful.

The birds have been fetching material for the nests and began breeding from May to June. And recently, the youngsters have been spotted flying around campus with their parents. Any latecomers will fledge in August at the latest.

An adult swift captured in full flight, likely out hunting to gather insect food for its young. Image: Brenda Sheridan Photogpraphy 2021.

Jamie Rohu said:

“Despite our best efforts, populations of the birds in Ireland have nearly halved in 20 years. And our wild bird populations in Ireland are in trouble more generally. The loss of insects is a critical component – the swifts depend on them for food and if they cannot feed they won’t survive let alone rear any chicks.”

To protect swifts in Ireland we should all be mindful of renovation works. As buildings are restored, small cracks and gaps get filled in. These are often used by swifts and other species like house sparrows to rear their young.

If buildings are being renovated it is a good idea to install swift nest boxes in case there are birds using the site for nesting. In this context, it is best that ecologists and architects work closely together, which is what we have seen at Trinity this year.

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