Starlings v Swifts – updated 21 May 2018

My daughter and her partner live in Cumbria and have starlings and swifts nesting in the eves of their house. Last year the starlings nested first and then the swifts moved in once the starlings had fledged. This year as normal the starlings are busy bringing up their babies in the usual place.

However last Saturday 12th May Susies partner heard a cacophony outside the house and saw a starling and swift tumbling together down onto the lawn followed by a tussle where the starling clearly had the upper hand and the swift’s life was at risk. He rescued the swift and after a rest launched it from an upstairs window. However after a while he saw the swift attempt to enter the nesting cavity and again the tussle ensued followed by another rescue and relaunch. Now a stalemate is in place where the swifts regularly fly by but the starlings are on high alert and drive them off.

This year they have erected two more swift boxes hoping to establish a small colony but it seems like this won’t be given a chance to happen until the starling family have fledged and moved out. But it leaves you with questions – does this competition happen regularly and do the swifts loose out. Or was it just because the weather was unseasonably hot that the swifts decided to try and get a move on early an start nesting?

Article by Julie Lane

And now an interesting response from Sue Hetherington:

Starling by Harry Appleyard, 20 April 2016

Starling by Harry Appleyard, 20 April 2016

I was interested to read Julie’s article about the nesting territories under dispute by starlings and swifts. I can’t offer any advice about the eaves of the house. However, Andrew and I have had similar worries about the possibilities of uninvited guests grabbing boxes intended for swifts.

Before our box was used, we found evidence that it had been used for roosting by some bird over the winter and realised a problem could arise. What we then did as autumn turned to winter, we cleaned the box out (which we no longer do, it’s not necessary) and we blocked the entry hole with a bathroom (or car washing) sponge.

We reckoned our swifts came back like clockwork on 3rd – 5th May so about half way through April, we removed the sponge. We always meant to attach a bit of cord to the sponge so it could be pulled out with having to start going up ladders, but of course we always forgot. It always appeared to us that the starlings wanted an earlier slot than the swifts so our sponge method always seemed to work.

I have heard of swifts having savage territorial disputes amongst themselves but hadn’t realised that a swift/startling fight could be so vicious. This competition for nesting sites sounds like yet another problem swifts are struggling against.

Sue Hetherington