Swifts in the tower
Every summer swifts return to the UK after their long migration from Africa. For years, the Museum tower has been a favourite nesting site. Our live camera reveals the nesting birds inside.
The Museum tower is a nesting site for European swifts, and they are a familiar summer sight here. Once fledged, common or European swifts (Apus apus) spend practically their entire life in flight. They feed, sleep and collect nesting material on the wing. The only time a swift stops flying is when it is breeding, although they sometimes even mate without stopping.
The swifts’ nest boxes are well hidden, and accessing them involves a cramped climb to the very top of the tower. Our webcam reveals this hidden space, showing chicks growing each summer. Cameras have been installed in two of the nest boxes, and the images are streamed online from May to early September.
The colony of swifts here has been the subject of a research study since May 1947, which was started by Elizabeth and David Lack. It is one of the longest continuous studies of a single bird species in the world, and has contributed much to our knowledge of the swift. In 1956, Swifts in a Tower was published, detailing the Lacks’ work on the colony. In 2018, the book was republished, offering a fascinating insight into the swifts which continue to nest in the tower.
Since 1994, the swift population in the UK has fallen by 42%. This may be due to a lack of nesting sites and food. The Oxford Swift City project, launched by the RSPB in 2017, aims to improve the conservation of swifts in Oxford by raising local awareness and through public engagement.
In 2014, inspired by the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition on display here, the Museum held a swift photograph competition. Mastery of the Skies by Judith Wakelam was chosen as the winner. Below you can see some of the other competition entries.