Calling all swifts : Durham Cathedral installs speakers to attract birds to its belfry

Durham Cathedral is encouraging breeding swifts to nest by installing high powered speakers 60ft above the ground in its Belfry Tower.

The speakers will broadcast the sound of swift calls, in the hope of attracting young birds looking for their first nest site to breed in the nest boxes which were fixed to the tower last year.

In addition to the sound system, a number of motion-triggered cameras will enable the team to monitor nest box use and will allow the cathedral to update the public on the progress of this hidden wildlife.

Michael Corkhill, Maintenance Supervisor at Durham Cathedral said : ‘Conservation and caring for nature is an important aspect of what we do at Durham Cathedral, so last year we were delighted to be able to install the swift boxes to help these endangered animals. With the addition of the sound system to attract the birds, we are hoping to encourage the colonisation of our nest boxes for the first time, and with the new monitoring devices we will also be able to track their progress.”

Swifts spend most of their life on the wing, only ever landing to breed in the UK, following their return from Africa in early May. UK swift populations declined by 60% between 1995 and 2020 and, as a result, are on the red-list of the UK’s most threatened bird species.

Durham Cathedral is undertaking the project in collaboration with a range of local stakeholders including Edward Twiddy of Atom Bank, who funded the installation of the swift boxes, and several academics, including Professor Stephen Willis from the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, who is leading on Durham University’s drive for net biodiversity gain across its many sites around the city.

Edward Twiddy said :

“The cathedral is already home to many wonderful bird and bat species that enjoy the sanctuary of the towers and the cloisters; helping the swifts to come back year after year from Africa to find perfect nesting conditions felt like a small but right thing to do.”