The Swifts Return to the David Attenborough Building

7th June 2023

With the onset of Summer, our seasonal guests are returning from their long flight from South Africa!

The East Tower of the David Attenborough Building in Cambridge contains a total of twenty-four nest boxes, four of which are connected to live webcams. Additionally, there is also an external camera to watch the comings and goings of the boxes. You can view all the webcams at the same time on the CCI Swifts webpage, which also features more information on the history of the swifts at the DAB. These cameras support the crucial work of swift-monitoring whilst providing valuable nest sites for the swifts themselves.


“The Common Swift was recently Red Listed in the UK on account of its alarming recent population decline, so we are very lucky to have them breeding on the DAB. By providing nest boxes for them (working alongside Action for Swifts) CCI is making a contribution to alleviating loss of nest sites in buildings, one of the likely causes of the decline, whilst raising awareness of these fantastic birds via the webcams which allow the public to follow their breeding attempts.”   – Chris Hewson, BTO Senior Research Ecologist


This year’s story so far: The first swift of the year was spotted on May 12th in Box #4, a week later single swifts were seen in Boxes #1 & #3, and by the morning of May 23rd there were two swifts in Box #3. A point of interest was seeing how, after some initial aggression which occurred when the pair got together, the two eventually began mutually preening. Two days later, Box #3 was occupied by a solitary swift and a pair of happy swifts were nesting in Box #1. On June 6th, the solitary swift was observed continuing to nest in Box #3 (pictured above). For the moment, no more swifts have been seen again in Box #4, but we have hopes that our volunteers, and indeed the public via the cameras, will catch a glimpse of more activity on the live feeds soon.

If you want to be involved in the swift project, you can head over to the CCI Swifts page and check out the live feeds. If you spot a swift, tweet #DABSwifts @CCI_Cambridge and be sure to include the box number they are in or fly in to/out of; doing so will aid our monitoring efforts and be a step towards gathering the knowledge required to help these wonderful birds.


“Watching Swifts zip around the skies of central Cambridge and listening to their joyful calls brings so much pleasure for us all here at the DAB during the summer. But Swifts are unfortunately now on the UK’s Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern, their UK population having declined 62% between 1995 and 2021.

Although the reasons for their decline are not yet fully understood, a lack of places to nest could be one factor. This is why the construction of 24 internal nest boxes added to the CCI tower is such an important step to supporting swift numbers in central Cambridge. By monitoring the uptake of these nest sites, the CCI Community hope to demonstrate the effectiveness of additional nest site provision for attracting breeding Swifts and that this will offer encouragement for other building owners in the city.

The nest camera footage from the boxes is a perfect tool for showing off these incredible summer visitors of the DAB and Museum of Zoology, and for sharing our knowledge about these birds and conservation initiatives such as installing internal nest sites. In the longer term, as the colony builds, we hope that by monitoring the swifts, their feeding patterns, breeding success and the weather they face during the summer, this information will be able to add to our scientific knowledge.”   – Laurinda Luffman, Head of Trusts & Foundations & RSPB Swift Species Lead



Editor’s Note: We would like to thank the DAB CCI Swift Task Team for all of their efforts maintaining this iconic nesting location and source of knowledge on swifts.