What amazing and interesting birds these little swifts (Apus affinis) are. Their long narrow wings and square shaped tails are highly adapted to the aerial lifestyle, they have short weak legs and a poorly developed breast muscle which is problematic for the little swift if it lands on the ground as it is rather difficult for them to get back into the air so they try and avoid landing on the ground altogether, however there have been a few little swifts at Long Lee Manor that I have had to give a helping hand to get back into the air!
To make up for their weak legs they have very strong feet and super sharp claws that help them cling to vertical surfaces.
The nests are built on vertical structures such as under bridges or even on cliffs but here at Long Lee Manor the male and the female build the nests under the eaves of the old Manor House (cira 1910).
The nest may not be very pretty to look at as it is made of grass and feather put together with saliva, however inside, the nest is smooth and neat!
They are colonial monogamous birds building their nests in groups of around 30; two or even three females can lay their eggs in a shared nest. Breeding season is from September to May peaking in December and January. The breeding pair can lay one to three eggs which are incubated by both parents for around twenty four days in ninety minute shifts. The chicks stay in the nests for about 38 days after which they are fully independent and leave.
Sometimes the little chicks fall out of their nests before they have reached maturity and that’s where foster dad and mum (my husband Mathias and I) step in and try to care for these little orphans until they are ready to leave our little nest and join the rest of the little swift family at Long Lee Manor. We currently are fostering a chick not more than 7 days old, definitely the youngest orphan we have in the 5 and 1/2 years we have been at Shamwari, he is on a diet of Pronutro and ground beef.
However the adult little swifts feed on the wing reaching amazing heights, they consume things like dragonflies, grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, flies and bugs. They also drink while in flight swooping low and scooping up water in their beaks.
Not much seems to be known about their migration patterns but they do fly north from May and return around the end of August. However on a warm winter’s day you might hear their song and see a small flock of little swifts in the blue skies above Longlee Manor!
By: Kim Matysik
Longlee Lodge Manager
References: http://www.arkive.org/ and http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/