Argyll Swift Survey 2020

Swift – note all dark plumage and short forked tail (photo: Jim Dickson)


2020 turned out to be a year unlike any we have known. In autumn 2019, following the excellent talk given by Annette Anderton at the indoor meeting, the ABC committee agreed that it should try to find out more about them in Argyll and undertake a survey of Swifts in 2020. Little did we know how suitable a choice this would be during the lockdown brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic.

BTO Surveys have found that Swift numbers have dropped by around 50% since 1995 and ringing has shown that some can live to 18 years of age or more. They are a remarkable species, flying for nine months or more without ever landing from when they depart Argyll in late July and August until they return in the first half of May. They even mate on the wing and can make long-distance foraging trips during the breeding season of over 100 miles. Factors that are known to influence their breeding success are those which impact on insect availability and feeding such as poor weather. Rain and also very hot weather, which can cause young to expire have been noted as a problem for Swifts, although the latter may be less of an issue in Argyll.

As virtually all Swifts nest in buildings (a few nest in woodpecker holes in ancient trees in the Native Pinewoods), they are one of very few species which are closely connected with people and where they live. The Club therefore decided to go ahead with the survey asking everybody to respect the government lockdown guidelines, but to report what they found in their local areas during exercise or in their own homes in some cases.

The project was advertised to members through emails and to the wider Argyll public through social media and the printed press. Following the initial information, updates were provided regularly. The effect of each update was to generate further reports, so overall good coverage was achieved for Argyll, and some areas just outside the boundary of our recording area. A very good response was received with over 40 people taking part.

Nationally it has been found that generally houses built after around 1965 don’t have breeding Swifts and, in Britain at least, the availability of nest sites can be a limiting factor. Where nest sites were reported in Argyll they were found to be breeding in old buildings or in nest boxes (such as those provided by Annette Anderton and in Taynuilt). Swifts readily take to boxes and the Argyll Bird Club has agreed to fund up to ten boxes, which will be available to members who are able to find a suitable site. Please contact David Jardine () if you wish to install one of these boxes: provision will be prioritised to the most suitable sites

Arrival of Swifts

The first birds were seen back on 5 May in four locations (Campbeltown, Connel, Kilmichael Glassary and Oban) and were seen in Taynuilt the following day. However, immediately after their arrival the weather turned much colder, with severe night frosts in some locations, and fewer were seen for a while, with the main arrival occurring in mid-May.

Breeding population

The total breeding population in Argyll appears to be around 50 pairs in at least 19 locations. Breeding was noted at:

Notably no breeding was reported from Inveraray or Tarbert; any details of breeding from these locations or other sites would still be welcome. Additionally, birds were seen, but breeding was not confirmed in Dervaig and Salen on Mull, Scammadale Glen, Inverneil and Innellan.

Annette Anderton has been studying the Swifts in Kilmichael Glassary for a number of years, ever since the birds started breeding in her house when they were excluded from a nearby building. In 2020, two pairs bred at her house, and another young pair were ‘prospecting’; in Swifts younger birds occupy nest sites, but don’t actually breed until they are older at the age of 3 – 4 years. There was also a further pair nesting in the village.

With the added details from a camera installed in one of the nest boxes, Annette reports that two eggs were laid (the normal clutch size in Swifts) and that one of the juvenile Swifts fledged in the first week of August and the other in the second week of the month. Annette reports that on very wet days the birds just remain in their boxes, thus influencing the growth rate of the young.

Departure of Swifts

At the end of July, as birds started to fledge, flocks were reported close to the breeding centres e.g.  20+ over Taynuilt on 22 July, 30+ over Oban on 22 July, 14+ over Moine Mhor on 23 July, 12 over Loch Awe on 31 July and 20 over Campbeltown on 12 August.

Departure this year was particularly protracted at Kilmichael Glassary this year (details of the comings and goings of Annette Anderton’s birds are given here ). There was also a number of other late sightings reported. One was seen coming in off the sea at Balnahard Bay, Colonsay on 3 September and another was seen in Machrihanish on 22 October. Sadly a bird which had been dead for 2-3 days was found in a garden in Ardrishaig on 23 October.


Thanks to everybody who took part (with apologies to anybody who may have been missed): M Adams, A Anderton, O Armstrong Hemmings, B Baillie, D Brooks, L Brice, M Chattwood, J Dickson, A Dykes, A Elsby, L Gibson, D Gilmour, R Grove, N Hammatt, R Harvey, H Lear, D Jardine, J Lehmann, S Lister, K Lowrie,  C Maddox, E Maguire, A McFarlane, A McGregor, J McInally, E McNab, R Morley, M Murphy, J Parker, L Paul, D Pearson, G Penman, D Rutherford, D & K  Thomas, F Thornton, B Urquhart, J Waldie, R Walker, J Witts, G E Yuill, K Zealand.


Breeding Bird Survey

We are encouraging Argyll Bird Club members to take part in BTO Breeding Bird Survey fieldwork in Argyll. Maps showing the squares available for survey work are shown below. If you are interested in taking part in this interesting and worthwhile survey please contact Nigel Scriven e-mail:
The BTO would be very grateful for help surveying BBS squares in Argyll in order to improve our bird population trend estimates in Scotland. These maps show the locations of available BBS squares in the area (in red), and detailed OS maps can be seen by going to  and replacing the grid reference in the web address with the grid reference of interest. Surveying a BBS square involves just two early-morning visits during the breeding season to count all birds seen or heard while walking around the square. More information, including the full instructions, can be found on the BBS website at

BBS Argyll squares

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS)

This is the BTO scheme which monitors non-breeding waterbirds in the UK. The principal aims of WeBS are to identify population sizes, determine trends in numbers and distribution and to identify important sites for waterbirds. The monthly counts concentrate on the months September – March but some sites are counted all through the year.
Mainland Argyll counts are currently carried out by: Jan Brown/Julia Randall (Loch Craignish),  Robert Devine (Loch Long: Ardentinny-Strone Point), Jim Dickson (Loch Crinan), , Robin Harvey (Dunstaffnage Bay, Loch Creran), David Jardine (Loch Ederline, Loch Gilp, Loch Leathan), Barbara McMillan (West Loch Tarbert), Ian McPherson (Loch Tulla), George Newall (Holy Loch) and Katie Pendreigh (Sound of Gigha).

We are always keen to recruit new counters and are looking for coverage of several sites on Mull, Campbeltown Loch and Loch Feochan (nr. Oban) in particular, although we can usually find a site near you. If you think you might be interested please contact: Mainland Argyll & Mull: Nigel Scriven email: Islay, Jura & Colonsay: David Wood email: Tiree & Coll: John Bowler email:

Mar 2017 WeBS counts Feb 2017 WeBS counts Jan 2017 WeBS counts Dec 2016 WeBS counts Nov 2016 WeBS counts Oct 2016 WeBS counts Sep 2016 WeBS counts Aug 2016 WeBS counts Jul 2016 WeBS counts June 2016 WeBS counts May 2016 WeBS counts Apr 2016 WeBS counts Mar 2016 WeBS counts 03.04 Feb 2016 WeBS counts 09.03 Jan 2016 WeBS counts 20.01