Arriving home on the hottest day of the year, we found this little chap on the ground. A young swift, newly fledged? There was no sign of injury, or a near nest. Swifts fly from the moment they fledge and feed, drink and sleep on the wing. They land only to breed, this chap would normally spend the first few years of his life on the wing. Swifts share our skies for just three months in the Summer before heading to Africa for the winter.
I wondered if the poor thing was suffering heat exhaustion and had simply fallen from the sky? I picked him up as to leave him on the ground left him to the mercy of the neighbourhood cats, and he rested calmly in the palm of my hand with his eyes closed.
We took him inside. With the tiniest syringe we were able to give him water that he would normally scoop up during flight. It seemed very welcome?
We found a small box and placed a tea towel in the corner to replicate the nest of a swift. We put our little friend inside, and in all honesty, I didn't expect him to survive the night.
Cautiously peeping in the box the next morning, it was such a relief to see our little swift was still with us. (In this photo he has shuffled in to another corner.)
We kept giving him water from the little syringe, and then scoured the garden for tiny spiders and midges. Swifts feed nearly constantly, so I was concerned about being able to provide enough food. Feeding our swift was hard work, as if he didn't want to eat. But I was determined to restore his seemingly ebbed strength if I could.
Over the next few days our swift rallied. It was magical to pick him up and be able to make eye contact. I definitely feel he was quite content. When we felt he was strong enough we took him outside, determined he would fly again. I spent many hours holding him aloft, or up a stepladder in the garden holding him higher still, willing him to take flight.
When I swooped my arm down, he would unfold his wings to balance himself, but seemed to want to close them quickly and just enjoy the sun. He watched with interest birds flying overhead. And he looked around taking everything in, but was happy to do this from the comfort of my palm.
High above, other swifts wheeled and called, their scythe shape dancing acrobatically in the sky. Their high elfin cry making me feel quite emotional - so easy to imagine it was the swift's parents calling to him, as I am sure they could see him from their lofty heights.
Although swifts fly at low levels to feed, they have been observed at over five and a half thousand meters over Ladakh in the Himalayas. Over the coming days, the best we managed was that on a couple of occasions, we managed to get him to take flight, but only to flutter down to the lawn.
As each day passed, and the swift had no interest in leaving, I wondered how long we would be able to keep him going, I knew he was taking in such a tiny amount of food compared to what he would normally eat.
Finally on day 10, we came downstairs to find the swift was dead. I picked up his tiny body, and tucked his wings close by his sides. I marvelled still at his beauty. He was wrapped in tissue and placed in a little box and buried deep in the garden with solemn children standing by.
It was such a magical privilege to spend so much time with such an elusive bird, that because it spends it's entire time on the wing, we know so little about.