Saturday, 27 June 2009

The grounded Swift

A phone call from home brought news of a grounded Swift. ‘Catch it and pop it in a bird bag somewhere cool and quiet’ I said, pondering that it was too early in the season for this to be a young bird that had left the nest prematurely. Sure enough, upon arrival home, an inspection of the bird revealed an adult, seemingly bright, alert and lacking any obvious injury. It could have collided with something, perhaps even another Swift (something which has been documented upon occasion) but a grounded adult would normally be able to take to the air. The notion that a grounded Swift cannot take to the air on its own comes from the fact that the majority of grounded Swifts are young birds, not sufficiently developed or too weak to fly.

I gave the bird the opportunity to fly, releasing it from an upstairs window but all it could do was glide down to the ground below in a soft arc, catching itself on a bush where it clung with its sharp claws to a leaf stalk. Further investigation revealed that the bird was significantly underweight and I wondered if it had got caught in a sudden downpour earlier in the week. If so, bedraggled it may have been grounded for sometime, becoming weaker to the extent that it was now unable to fly.

I do not make a habit of rehabilitating birds but this one seemed sufficiently bright enough to suggest that it might have a fighting chance. So now I find myself catching flies in the garden. Dutifully dispatched, the flies are fed to the Swift, which sits wrapped in cloth, and bill firmly shut. By gentle manipulation I can open the bill and present each fly to an eager palette. Each one is taken down with a visible gulp, the pale throat undulating and the eyes blinking, but the Swift seemingly otherwise nonplussed by my tender efforts. It is going to take a good number of flies, and many patient feeds if this bird is to recover to a point where it can take to the air again.

I suspect that this is a first year bird, the shape of the primary (main flight) feathers suggesting as much. This means that it is unlikely to be part of a breeding pair, since Swifts do not normally breed in their first year. This is something of a relief, since it will not have chicks dependent upon it for food. It’s too early to say how it will fare, even if I can get it back to a decent weight it might not be able to fly, but it is certainly worth a go.

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