First guests welcomed in Cambridge’s newest hotel

24th May 2022

The David Attenborough Building ‘Swift Hotel’ opened for business last week as it saw swifts take up residence in two out of the 20 nest boxes, 12 of which were put up just a few weeks ago.

Touching down to roost here is most likely to be the first time these swifts have landed in almost a year. Swifts spend almost their whole life on the wing – they eat, drink and even sleep in the air. They have tiny feet and legs and can hardly walk, so you won’t see them perching on telegraph wires or fences!

Swift populations are sadly suffering severe declines. The British population declined by 51% between 1995 and 2015 and the rate of decline is increasing.

One of the reasons for this dramatic reduction in numbers is a loss of nest sites. Swifts nest in holes – often inside old buildings, and they need a clear flyway route in. Many suitable old buildings are being knocked down or renovated with holes being filled. New buildings are rarely designed with the required nooks and crannies – unless specifically done so for swifts. Smart developments include innovative swift bricks in their design, or carefully placed nest boxes, as done here at the David Attenborough Building.

Supporting biodiversity was key to the award-winning redevelopment of the David Attenborough Building, an approach known as ‘biophilic design’. Initially 8 swift boxes were installed in the East Tower and last year (2021) we were delighted to see our first fledglings.

When forced to look for a new home, swifts are attracted to sites that have already been ‘approved’ by other swifts and so playing recordings of swift calls is a good way to let prospecting flyers know there are homes available. So, if you hear their unmistakable screeching cry, check the skies, it could just be that a nearby resident is trying to offer a home to these threatened birds.

Swifts are site-faithful and will return each year to the same location and so we are hopeful the colony here will grow. We have added live ‘SwiftCams’ to 3 more nest boxes and an additional external camera, with all 6 webcams viewable at the same time on the CCI Swifts webpage.

The live webcams enable specialists who work in the building to monitor the residents with the aim of learning more about how best to support the species’ recovery.

‘It’s so great to be able to support swifts right here, in the world headquarters of conservation.’ said Dick Newell from Action for Swifts, who has been involved in this project from the start.

‘Swifts are one of the few birds that nest in cities and so they are a great way for urban populations to engage with nature. People are much more likely to protect nature if they have opportunities to see it and to understand it. The webcams can play a vital role in this.’ explained Mike Rands, former Executive Director of CCI who initiated the webcams.

Over the last few days, a single swift has been seen on SwiftCam 2 and a pair have been spotted on SwiftCam 1. Swifts mate for life, but it is unusual to see them arrive back from their African migration at the same time as we have seen with this pair.

This year we are asking the public to help us learn even more about these elegant birds and to tweet sightings from the webcams. We hope to build up a better picture of their activities and to learn how we can help increase their numbers.

Do take a look, but we warned, it’s addictive viewing!