A TIRELESS Prestwich campaigner who devotes her summers to caring for one of the UK’s most “misunderstood” birds is desperate to highlight their plight.
Shirley Hart voluntarily treats injured common swifts in her home when fledglings, whose parents travel thousands of miles to the UK each summer to breed, fall from their nests.
The 40-year-old veterinary nursing assistant trained as a specialist carer in 2009 and since launching self-funded project, Save Our Swifts, has looked after 10 birds in the last five summers.
Shirley receives calls about injured swifts, which could become extinct in less than 20 years, from across England and currently has two patients with three more on the way.
She said: “I found out about the loss of swift nesting grounds through work — two were brought in who had accidentally been bricked into a house and were suffering from severe dehydration.
“Each year I see an influx of injured babies. They can need round-the-clock care and it can be weeks before they are ready to be released.”
The misconceptions surrounding swifts are boundless — with well-meaning individuals causing real danger to young birds who have fallen from nests prematurely.
Shirley said: “People think grounded swifts should be thrown in the air or released from somewhere high but this can be disastrous.
“Once a swift is thrown it has no option but to fly but if it is already weak or its wings are not yet properly developed it will come crashing down and most likely die.”
Another problem is what people feed captive swifts – they eat only certain insects and an incorrect diet can cause liver failure.
Shirley said: “I have heard of people giving swifts earthworms, steak, egg and prawns!
“Last year one was fed bird seed, causing its feathers to fall out, and for a bird which relies on flight to survive this can prove fatal.
“If people are calling, I need to know what condition the bird is in as sometimes veterinary attention is needed.
“Then the swift should be placed in a small, covered, ventilated box and should not be fed but can be given water via a cotton bud only.” With the swifts she treats munching on around 130 insects a day, committed Shirley keeps flies and waxworms in her freezer ready for her summer visitors.
She finds the friendly birds lovely to treat — they enjoy being stroked under their necks — and there is no danger of them imprinting and relying on human contact.
Shirley said: “There is still so much to learn and understand about swifts — this is not something just anybody would want to do but they are worth it.
“It is an amazing feeling to release a bird you know will now remain in flight for the first two to four years and will keep returning to the UK time and time again.
“If these fascinating birds become extinct we will lose the sound of our summer.”
If you find a swift and need advice: call Shirley on 07519514176, email firstname.lastname@example.org