Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Swifts breeding endangered by church scaffolding

Photo: Pau.Artigas, via Wikipedia.
A meeting at Kilcullen Parish Church tomorrow, Thursday, could decide the fate of up to half of the swifts that nest in the church's eaves, writes Brian Byrne.

It is estimated that there are 18 long-established nests between the two levels of the church's eaves, but the scaffolding put up for repairs to the roof is impeding entry to 8-10 of them.

The church is the only known nesting place for swifts in Kilcullen. While nesting boxes have been placed in Scoil Bhride in recent times, it could take at least three years before any birds take residence.

A representative of Wild Kildare is to meet with the scaffolder on site tomorrow to see what can be done. Time is scarce as male swifts are currently preparing nests for females to breed.

Swifts come back to the same nest to breed for some 15 years after they have fledged. If they can't access the regular spot it throws their whole breeding pattern out of kilter. Except when nesting, swifts spend their lives in the air, living on insects caught in flight. They drink, feed, and often mate and sleep on the wing. Some individuals go 10 months without landing. No other bird spends as much of its life in flight, and a swift is capable of speeds in excess of 100km/h.

"The problem is, swifts fly into their nests, arriving at up to 40mph," says Paddy Sheridan of Wild Kildare. "They're not able to land first and clamber around to access the nest. If there's something in their flight path, they can't get around it."

In this instance, horizontal elements of the scaffolding are blocking those flight paths on both eaves of the church. The structure was erected to effect repairs after storm Ophelia, but those repairs have been delayed while a conservation architect, the Parish and the Diocese discuss whether the whole roof will need to be replaced.

In the meantime it has been patched with plastic to guard against further deterioration of the roof structure and the church interior. Tomorrow's meeting may result in a decision to dismantle some or all of the scaffolding pending a decision on repairs or replacement of the roof.

Paddy Sheridan says the lower eave is unusually low to house swift nests, which typically are found in the eaves of older 2-storey houses. In his work with Wild Kildare he has been surveying the swift population in the county for a number of recent years.

He says the birds' situation in Kilcullen is precarious, as there is only the one known nesting place. "It's literally a case of having all your eggs in one basket, and that's not good."