Friday, 26 June 2009

A Summer Sound

The high summer sound of swifts screaming overhead reminds me of the extraordinary lives of these magical and much-loved birds. They spend their entire life on the wing: they sleep on the wing, they eat, drink, collect nesting materials and mate in flight (the only bird known to do so), and the only time they ever come down is to nest. They can't take off from the ground - a grounded swift must be helped back into the air. For their size they are long-lived and can live up to 20 years. Once the young birds leave the nest, they instantly take up an independent airborne life and are apparently ignored by their parents. They are then in the air permanently for the next two years or so, until they build their own nests. A young swift can be hundreds of miles southwards on its first trip to central African winter quarters within 48 hours of leaving the nest. Swifts migrate between Africa and England, where they spend only three short months before returning on the long flight home, since once they have raised their young, they have no reason to stay. Their swooping screaming is the sound of summer, evocative of June and sunshine and long, warm evenings.

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