Mooney Goes Wild, Sunday January 15th 2017

On Mooney Goes Wild tonight: The Common Swift

Following on from last night's broadcast of The Beeman (visit to find out more about our documentary profile of Philip McCabe), our second NEW wildlife radio documentary this weekend is all about The Common Swift (Apus apus). Join Derek as he learns about efforts being made across Europe, from Cork to Warsaw, and from Belfast to Baku in Azerbaijan, to learn more and thus help save this favourite summer visitor!

Pictures of Swifts courtesy of BirdWatch Ireland; photos by (l) Paulina Skoczylas and (r) Artur Tabor

We start the programme by saying Slán To The Swift, as Derek meets with staff from BirdWatch Ireland (including Niall Hatch and Brian Caffrey) and Dublin City Council's Biodiversity team.  He then travels to Cork, to meet Professor John O'Halloran from UCC, to learn about their swift monitoring project...

From left: Swift Nestbox Monitor; Swift Nestboxes; John O'Halloran

To find out more about the Swift Nestbox Monitoring in UCC, visit

From there, Derek and Niall travel to Baku, in Azerbaijan, to find out from Samir Nuriyev, Director of the State Historical Architectural Reserve, Icherisheher, about work being done in that city to protect swifts...

Displaced Azeri Swifts Of Baku

Left: the famous Maiden Tower; Right: a new building with swift boxes

In the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, the famous Maiden's Tower has been home to swifts for many years. Holes in its crumbling walls provided nestplaces for about 250 Swifts for the past 30 or 40 years.  The tower is now being conserved to solve a hundred years of weather damage.  But the conservation, when completed, will leave only about 40 holes usable by the Swifts.  So special swift boxes are being installed on local buildings to rehouse the birds.

From there, Derek and Niall visit Poland, to talk to OTOP's Karolina Kalinowska, the International Manager of the Spring Alive project.  OTOP is the BirdLife International Partner in Poland, and Spring Alive is an international campaign to encourage children’s interest in nature and the conservation of migratory birds.  For more information about the project, visit

Swift Cities

Derek and Niall then visit Peter Cush, Senior Scientific Officer with the Biodiversity Unit in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, to learn about swift cities, and how they can help swift numbers...

Left: Niall Hatch and Peter Cush; Right: information on swift cities

To find out more about Belfast's Swift City, visit

Swift 'Backpacks'

The Swift is an iconic and intriguing urban bird.  But it’s amber-listed in Ireland due to a decline in its population – thought to be due to the loss of available nest sites – and that’s compounded by the brevity of their breeding season which is shorter than any other breeding birds other than the cuckoo.  They arrive here in May and depart for Africa in early September.

Swifts are supreme aerialists and are Ireland’s fastest birds in level flight – clocking up about one hundred and eleven km/h.  Their wings are long and narrow and superbly adapted for fast flight and their forked tail is closed for maximum efficiency.  This enables them to fly to heights of more than ten thousand feet (3 km) and to travel about 19,000 km a year.  In 1964, an 18-year-old tagged bird was found dying in the UK.  It was estimated that in its lifetime, it had flown about six and a half MILLION km – the same as flying to the moon and back 8 times!

The Swift has tiny feet and virtually no legs, which makes taking flight from a standing start virtually impossible – so they never purposely land on the ground.  But they have little need to as they do pretty much everything in the air – from eating and sleeping to bathing and preening.  A young Swift will spend its first two or three years in constant flight only landing in high sheltered locations to nest.  They are the only known species who actually mate on the wing.

But it’s the extraordinary flying habits of Swifts which makes them so hard to study, because they’re so fast and totally aerial - and a team of scientists in Northern Ireland is currently finding a way round this problem.

They’re fitting Common Swifts with “backpacks” containing tiny GPS units, to find out where they forage.  This research is crucial to shedding light on key feeding areas, which have previously been impossible to monitor.  As Swifts can feed many miles away from where they breed, it’s essential that conservationists identify those sites so that they can each be protected – with the aim of safeguarding the species to secure its long term survival.

We conclude our focus on The Common Swift as Derek meets Dr. Kendrew Colhoun (Senior Conservation Scientist with the RSPB), Róisín Kearney (trainee bird ringer with the RSPB), and Philip Carson (Conservation Advisor with the RSPB) to learn more about this exciting project...

Clockwise from top left: (i) Róisín Kearney trainee bird ringer RSPB, Philip Carson, conservation advisor with RSPB and Kendrew Colhoun, senior conservation scientist RSPB; (ii) swift nest site, Northern Ireland; (iii) Preparing swift cage trap for catching swift as it leaves its nest site; (iv) Fixing make shift net in place against the wall covering the entrance to the nest

Clockwise from top left: (i) Bird in the hand; (ii) Ready for tagging; (iii) GPS logger fitted 0.8g; (iv) GPS tag


It is an offence to 'cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy hedgerows on uncultivated land during the nesting season from 1 March to 31 August, subject to certain exceptions'. For more information, click here.  

To contact your local wildlife ranger, click here for contact details. To read the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, click here.

Caring For Wild Animals

Please note that many species of mammals, birds, invertebrates etc... are protected under law and that, even with the best of intentions, only someone holding a relevant licence from the National Parks & Wildlife Service should attempt the care of these animals.  For full details, please click here to read the NPWS Checklist of protected & rare species in Ireland.  If you are concerned about a wild animal, please contact your local wildlife ranger - click here for details.


Please DO NOT send any live, dead or skeletal remains of any creature whatsoever to Mooney Goes Wild.  If you find an injured animal or bird, please contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 1890 20 20 21, or BirdWatch Ireland, on 01 281-9878, or visit

Music Played on the Show

Living Planet: Natural Cycles

Living Planet: Natural Cycles

Gavyn Wright, Phil Todd, Anthony Pleeth, Maurice Murphy & Nicholas Hooper




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Presenter: Derek Mooney


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