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Keeping in boxes
Ideally swifts are kept in plastic storage boxes or cartons with high, smooth walls. Even quite small nestlings are capable of climbing, and can get out of any high basket or wooden box. It has happened that some bird finders, just when they are on the phone to get some advice, or are busy with getting the right food, out of the blue they find the swift child – a moment ago bedded down in a warm nest – suddenly on the floor or having crawled somewhere else. And in the worst case, a swift may be accidentally trampled to death, or the foundling may disappear, and then be found weeks later shriveled up behind some shelves. This is no joke, but has all happened before.

A swift must never be put in a birdcage or behind wire! Even though it seems logical: it is understandable to think of a birdcage when one must suddenly find a place for an injured bird. Unfortunately, for a swift it has fatal consequences. Mostly he will beat his primary and tail feathers so hard against the wires that he cannot fly again. It has also happened that a swift in its desperation has got its wing stuck between the wires and twisted it so badly that it had to be put down. So a swift cannot be put “behind bars” or in any kind of enclosure with rough walls that can cause damage to feathers or injuries.

The ideal housing for adult or nearly fledged young swifts should have a floor space of at least 30x40 cm, so the bird can stretch its wings and do flying exercises, with about half covered with a cloth to mimic the familiar, shadowy nestbox atmosphere. Babies and very young nestlings can be accommodated in smaller boxes, but should later "move house" when they grow up.

Group accommodation...
In plastic storage boxes © E. Brendel

Furnishing, accessories and cleaning

Line the box with a soft mattress of several layers of kitchen paper. You can also place a towel on the floor of the box and cover it with paper towel. Newsprint, straw, pet litter or similar are totally unsuitable for swifts! Remove feces as soon as possible and change upper layers of soiled paper towels at each feeding. If the container is not kept scrupulously clean, or if it is too small and narrow, it can lead to feather damage. Bent, kinked and broken wing and tail feathers, and excrement encrusted feathers, bald spots and pressure points must not occur! 1-2 times per week you should wash thoroughly the entire box with warm water, to which can be added a mild detergent (never use hot detergent!), so that the deposits are completely renewed. Additional disinfection of the box is not necessary.


In a corner of the box you can place a nest (small, flat bowl or ashtray, covered with kitchen paper). For older juveniles and adult swifts, a roll of towel covered with kitchen paper is recommended. Swifts like to sit high, for example clinging fast to the roll.


A special luxury is the creation of a "climbing wall" which can be easily made from a short curtain rod and two adhesive hooks on the wall of the box. A small towel (cut off loops: they could strangle a swift!) is clamped with two clothes’ pegs on the curtain rod. You will be amazed how gladly a swift clings to the vertical towel and even spends the night there! The vertical position is clearly perceived as very pleasant and relaxing. Care has to be taken that there is a sufficient space between the curtain rail and the top edge of the box, or a lid is added, otherwise the "climbing wall" becomes a first-class escape route!


Arrangement of boxes: nests and climbing rolls are preferred © E. Brendel
Holes (sheltered spots) and climbing walls are readily used by swift patients © E. Brendel
Tweezers hooks: a hygienic way to hang feeding tweezers between feeding © E. Brendel

It is imperative that unfeathered (or nearly so) nestlings or intensive care patients have a source of warmth. The best is a heating pad, which should have at least 12 hours of operation and a multi-stage temperature control. For a swift, due to its posture while lying, gentle heat from below is the most appropriate. You can also use an infrared radiant heater, which emits no light but only heat, and can therefore be left on overnight (in an emergency, even an infrared light as used for medical purposes). The temperature in the nest should be 32 ° -35 ° C and must be regularly checked. An opportunity for the animal to move from the heat source must be provided. In no case may an ultraviolet lamp be used because it causes severe burns. A heat source of any kind should never be left unattended - fire hazard!


The littlest naturally wants to stay warm © E. Brendel
A suitable heating pad © E. Brendel

The area should be quiet, dry and draft-free, not in the vicinity of the television, radio, or children's room, and not in the kitchen (overheating Teflon can be deadly for birds!). Swifts are extremely susceptible, noise-sensitive, demanding and complicated patients; children are not capable of looking after them, and they are certainly not a toy for children. Other animals such as dogs, cats, rats, parrots, etc. must not have access to bird patients. Never allow smoking in the vicinity of a bird! Strong odors, such as intensely perfumed flowers are to be avoided. Never keep the Swift in a damp or musty room, and avoid creating dust (risk of aspergillosis)!


Single or group accommodation
Swifts are very sociable. It is better to raise only two swifts together than one. Although the risk of imprinting to humans in this species is rather low, the bird obviously feels more comfortable when he's not alone, but in the company of his own species. Even a very frightened or troubled young swift calms down almost instantly when you put it in the company of one or more of the same species. Even adult birds, which can be extremely wild, defensive and hard to deal with, find it better to be in the company of other swifts during a temporary “imprisonment”, with completely alien feeding conditions. They are happy to lie in pairs or in groups next to each other, care for their plumage and their neighbors, and one gets the impression that there is real friendship. Even intimate pair bonding is not uncommon.

Hand reared young swifts busy themselves (like their counterparts in nature) with one another: they scratch and clean each other, chatting and lying down side by side. In nature there are usually two or three eggs. An "only child" is rare.


Adolescent young swifts in their box © E. Brendel
Just like at home in the nest - cuddling is great! © E. Brendel

Accommodation in a terrarium
In the Swift Clinic, patients are often cared for over a very long time, e.g. if they have to regrow feathers after plumage damage. Therefore, particular types of accommodation have been tested and used. While a young swift, who spends only his nestling stage in human hands, is best housed in a half covered box, resembling its natural nest, long-term patients are kept in spacious, open-top terrariums that are placed near windows with an open view of the outside.

The terrariums are elaborately furnished with various rolls of paper, nests, hiding places, climbing walls and curtains. The Swifts have a refuge, and a chance to climb. Depending on the size of the terrarium, they are kept in groups of four to eight. The birds get used to the glass amazingly quickly and enjoy a view into the open while sitting on the raised rolls. Climbing walls and cave-like hiding places behind or under small towels or fleece scarves are gladly accepted. Sometimes the inmates are crowded together in a nest like sardines, sometimes they hang on a climbing wall in lines and watch through the glass panes what is happening around them.

The goal of it all is to ensure that the swift does not lose the sense of sky and space and the connection to the outside. This is very important their subsequent release.


Swift in a terrarium © I. Polaschek
Long term patients in terrarium: furnished with nests, climbing rolls and curtains © C. Haupt
Alpine swift as a patient in a terrarium © C. Haupt
Terrarium seen from above © E. Brendel
Long term patients need a view of the outside © A. Spliedt
Mounting of a climbing wall with curtain rods and hooks © A. Spliedt

Light Therapy

For long-term patients, such as swifts with feather damage, it is very appropriate to provide them with a light source with a natural spectrum of daylight and UV. In the Swift Clinic, for this purpose, covers with 2 compact lamps were installed on each terrarium. The lamps have complementary spectra ("reptile Glo 10.0" and "reptile Glo 2.0," Vendor "Exo-Terra"). The radiation of the UV lamps and natural light extends to 50 cm. They must not be placed behind a glass surface, since the radiation would not be effective then. The birds must have the opportunity to get out of the lit area and take cover from the light.
The combined UV/daylight has a beneficial effect on the growth of feathers and the birds’ psychology. The swifts are much livelier and more active, eat well and often seek places directly under the lamps, where they preen their feathers and care for themselves intensively.

Buchenstraße 9
D-65933 Frankfurt

Tel.:+49(69)35 35 15 04
We accept only swifts! Questions regarding other bird species will not be answered!
Information regarding other bird species: http://www.wildvogelhilfe.org/
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