Swift

Swift. Common, Or Black Swift. Black, Or Screech Martin. Swift-Swallow. Develing. Screech. Screamer. Squealer. Cran. Martin Du, of the Ancient British. Figure 18. [bottom right]

Varioud bird eggs

Like the rest of our Swallows, this is a migratory bird, and it remains with us a shorter time than most of the others, generally arriving in May, and departing in August. Its scientific name is Hirundo apus, meaning a Swallow without a foot, derived no doubt from the small size of the feet, and the little use it seems to make of them, being almost constantly in the air, where its evolutions are peculiarly rapid and graceful, even for one of its family. The rapidity with which it skims and dashes along, wheeling and turning in the most sudden manner, is truly marvellous; so great is the force of its forward impetus, that it has been known to kill itself by dashing against a wall; it has been estimated that Wild Ducks fly ninety miles an hour, and Swallows rather more, but the Swift above two hundred miles an hour; this may possibly be an exaggeration, but if we make a large allowance, say one half, the rate of progress is something astounding.

The note of the Swift is a harsh scream, hence several of the common names by which it is known; it is generally uttered while pursuing its insect prey on the wing, and may be considered as an exclamation of triumph or delight, as much as to say,—"Ha, ha, I have caught you!"

The Swift resorts much to ruinous castles, steeples, towers, and precipitous rocks, for the purpose of building; sometimes it nestles under the eaves of cottages and barns, or in holes in walls, and hollow trees, etc. The nest is rudely formed of sticks and straws stuck together with mud; the materials are picked up with great dexterity while the bird is on the wing, and, sometimes, it is said, the Sparrow or other small bird is robbed of its goods and chattels by the impudent stranger, which snatches them up, and is gone like a flash of lightning.

The eggs are white, of a longish oval shape, and seldom more than two or three in number.

This bird, like the rest of the Swallows, is pretty widely diffused over the country during the time it remains here; it has a near relative called the White-bellied or Alpine Swift, which is common in the south of Europe, but which seldom comes so far north as this. There are also belonging to this family of gliders, as they are sometimes called, the Purple and Sand Martins, which are placed among British Birds; the former is common in America, but rare with us, the latter, the smallest of the family, are not unfrequently found in Britain.

The whole plumage of the Common Swift, with the exception of a greyish white patch under the chin, is blackish brown, with a bronzy green tinge, which greatly relieves its otherwise dull appearance.