Swift, skilful … and noisy
You do not have to be a birdwatcher or a nature lover to notice swifts. In some parts of Malta these have become part and parcel of the urban environment from late spring to mid-summer.
Swifts are noisy birds especially when they chase each other through the streets and between buildings.
They can be seen in areas such Paceville, St Julians, Sliema, Gżira, San Ġwann, Mosta, Mdina, Mellieħa and in Gozo.
Swifts started breeding in the Maltese islands about six years ago. The eggs are laid in a rudimentary nest in ventilators or crevices in buildings, usually in competition with Spanish sparrows.
Since the first colony was established, the number of breeding sites has increased rapidly.
Some time ago it was realised that we actually have two species of swift breeding here: the common and the pallid swift. These two species are very similar and difficult to tell apart.
Common and pallid swifts, known in Maltese as rundun and rundun kannelli respectively, are spring and autumn migrants.
Another species, the alpine swift or rundun żaqqu bajda in Maltese is larger than the other and is easily identified by its white belly.
All swifts are trans-Saharan migrants. Pallid swifts tend to arrive at the breeding sites earlier and leave later than the common swift.
Swifts are fast, skilful flyers; they spend most of their lives flying and touch land only when they are breeding.
Until relatively recently, migrating swifts were illegally shot in large numbers by Maltese bird hunters.
Their shooting has now started to decrease as a result of better law enforcement and this has led these birds to breed on the islands.
In the past five years or so we have had other breeding successes.
Swallows and house martins which also used to be shot in large numbers are managing to breed successfully every year although not yet in large numbers.