But nothing complements this urban experience more than the sight and sound of screaming Common Swifts Apus Apus as they effortlessly tear through the air with their scythe-shaped wings above our heads and centuries-old buildings. It only takes a few minutes of watching them and then it’s done, you’re captivated. Fascination deepens and admiration grows as you catch yourself delving to know more about them. It’s hard not to, really.
Common Swifts, and the rest of the ancient Apodidae family, have so fundamentally adapted to an aerial existence that it has profoundly affected all aspects of their lives. Common Swifts are the only birds that do everything on the wing: eat, drink, mate, gather nesting materials and sleep. A recent study published in the journal Current Biology, revealed that Swifts can remain airborne for most of the year without ever coming down, confirming that these birds are truly born to fly. More specifically, the data showed that when Swifts are not in their nests (i.e. during their 10-month non-breeding period) they spend more than 99% of their time in flight, making the species the new record holder for longest uninterrupted flight! And as for how and when they catch some Z’s while up there, researchers speculate that Swifts could be saving energy by riding currents of hot air and by taking “power naps” as they slowly descent from as high as 3,000m each dawn and dusk.
Every year, Common Swifts arrive in Cyprus to nest beginning of February and by end of July they return to sub-Saharan Africa to spend the winter. Any sightings of Swifts from August until October are more than likely to be those of passage birds who have begun their journey later in the summer from northern Europe and are on their way to Africa. These agile flyers are the fastest of all birds in level flight (the peregrine falcon is the fastest of them all, but only when doing very high and steep dives). Although superficially similar to Swallows and House Martins, Common Swifts are bigger and can be readily distinguished by their long narrow wings, short forked tail and dark brown plumage which is what gives them that characteristic dark silhouette against the sky. Unlike Barn Swallows and House Martins, Common Swifts don’t build nests. Instead, they make do with suitable eaves and holes under tiles or roofs usually in old buildings.
As in other parts of the world, so in Cyprus too, the population trend for the Common Swift is worrying. The current estimated breeding population for Cyprus is between 15,000 – 60,000 birds but this is an already decreased number. BirdLife Cyprus’ common bird monitoring data shows a yearly decline of up to 5% between 2006 – 2015 within farmland areas (the key habitat for the species) and an uncertain trend when all habitats are taken together.