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Information for vets

The Common Swift as a veterinary patient

In the summer months the Common Swift, Apus apus (Linnaeus 1758), is one of the most numerous foundlings in a veterinary practice for small animals. This applies in particular urban regions, where it has its preferred breeding places.


Adult birds

In the beginning of May, when the birds return from their winter quarters to their breeding areas in Europe, adult swifts foundlings are often brought to a vet or an ornithologist by animal lovers. Within all birds this species may be adapted most extremely to the air space. It will never lower itself to the ground voluntarily.

Adult swifts which are found on the ground usually have had an accident

and are heavily weakened. In this condition they always need help.

When the birds search for their nesting site they also often stray in

houses or attics. If they once have lowered themselves to the ground

of a narrow space they are no longer able to find their way out.


on the left: Adult swift with damaged plumage, in the middle: adult swift with head injury © E. Brendel


With the beginning of the brood season crashed or orphaned young Common Swifts are often found on the ground.  As the parents never feed outside the nest these foundlings are lost without professional aid. The Common Swift is an especially difficult species to rear successfully. This is not something that amateurs can easily achieve, and it is best for the Swift if you can find an expert to take over the task, as false feeding may cause severe damages of the skeleton and the plumage which can lead to the inability to fly.


Arrival of two Common Swift patients in a cardboard box © E. Brendel


The handling of Common Swifts by humans is still a barely examined field within veterinary medicine which has often been taken over by motivated laypersons so far. In doing so a species-appropriate care which should lead to the total recovery and its ability to be reintroduced into the wild is not always guaranteed. Many finders exert themselves unselfishly for a found Common Swift, but mostly they fail through the considerable complications which may occur when handling such a demanding foundling. Just as little helpful is the multitude of contradictory and often false information they get from different sources.


Search for aid

Empirical, advice-seeking animal lovers contact at first a vet, preferentially the one they go to with their pets. Next-door bird watchers, the local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, specialised pet shops or nature conservation organisations, wildlife parks and zoological gardens are also consulted. However, these drop-in centres are often overstrained with the special requirements of such foundlings. Often people try to help the foundling on their own account which fails in many cases according to insufficient knowledge. Many voluntary wild bird shelters and "bird nannies" look with great dedication after Common Swifts, but often without sufficient consideration about their living and biology. The insistence on decades-aged and dubious methods of feeding, fostering and even therapy can be observed over and over again. As a Common Swift reacts to medical malpractice, in contrary to small songbirds, rarely with a quick death but consistently with late damages of the organ and skeleton system as well as of the plumage, convincing from a vet point of view is difficult. Furthermore, the opinions about how to treat these high-performance flyers differ even amongst experts.


Lack of control

As set free convalescents can be ringed only infrequently, the success or failure of manipulations on Common Swifts usually defies any control. The affected Common Swifts are always the ones who suffer the slightest mistake may lead to fatal consequences. Often the birds have a long time of suffering before their inevitable death, especially as a result of incorrect medical attendance, false estimation of injuries like fractures and luxations or inadequate feeding.


Prognosis and therapy
For the Common Swift, a high-performance flyer, certain injuries, for example fractures of the wings, have to be judged differently than by other wild birds and especially by ornamental birds. The therapeutic possibilities are limited, as the only aim of a veterinarian treatment is the total recovery of the survivability in the wild and not only lifesaving.



Beyond the medical manipulation an appropriate and often elaborate

aftercare is of great importance when dealing with a wild bird patient. Its behaviour and need differ considerably. Therefore, the vet has not only to consider

a reasonable and under the given circumstances possible medical treatment of a free living bird like a Common Swift, but also to bring it in accordance with the specific adaptive requirements. This often requires collaboration with competent ornithologists. Advises of such experts are also necessary when valuating the middle life expectancy and the survivability with regard to the season (e.g. migratory birds).


When dealing with different kinds of injuries and damages the vet has to predict as soon as possible if a restitutio in integrum is to be expected, which therapeutic methods are necessary and if a professional aftercare is provided.


nestling (on the right) injured by a cat © E. Brendel


Many years of experience in the Common Swift Clinic may conduce to a better appraisal of these highly specialised patients according to their particular requirements and to the knowledge for taking the necessary steps. This should help the vet to provide an exact diagnosis and give a realistic prognosis for the Common Swifts brought into its medical practice and to fulfil both finder and foundling. Besides aspects of animal care this can provide a contribution to the protection of species. The local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals declared the Common Swift, Bird of the Year 2003, not at least in view of the multiple safety hazards resulting in living in urban areas.


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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