Monday, 13 April 2009


Last year, in the middle of Summer, when the swifts were here and nesting in our eaves, we found a young swift lying in the grass. It was an opportunity to have a good look at this most
intriguing and aerial of all birds. It is thought that the swift may spend up to three years aloft before coming down to breed - they eat, sleep and mate up in the sky, high above our heads. Often, when they return here, the first thing we hear is their shrill cry - and we hear that long before we see them. In Marrakech some years ago my hotel room looked out over a park of high trees. Hundreds of swifts circled the air above those trees and their shrill cries were louder than the noises of the street below.
We picked the young swift up out of the grass and David held it in his hand. Its feet were obviously not designed for the ground, they were curled under and hardly formed. Its feathers had the most beautiful blue sheen. He took it into the field, held it on the flat of his hand and off it flew, soaring high into the air with a shrill cry. It was obvious that it could not take off again once it fell to the ground. They will soon be back again - for a short while - and hopefully we will have a pair nesting in our eaves; they have nested there for the last few years so we live in hope. In the meantime, as we wait for their arrival - here is a poem I wrote last year in praise of the Swift:-

In Summer
for a while
the swifts come.

Birds of speed
and light;
they nest in our eaves
and come and go below
where I am standing
at our highest window.

Blue-black arrows,
they course through
the damp air,
their trajectory
cutting a swathe
through the dancing midge.

These are the real
birds of the air,
eating, sleeping, mating
on the wing,
their ill-formed feet
unsuited to the land.

For the time it takes to raise
the next generation
I watch them.
Aptly named creatures,
I love their speed,
their accuracy,
their mystery...
but above all
their wildness.

One day I look down and
they are gone.
I can hear their scream
high above me;
I look up,
I strain my eyes,
try to catch
that last burst of speed,
that last manouvre of
aeronautical perfection,
before they head away.


Crafty Green Poet said...

oh I love the swifts, I'm waiting patiently for their return... How lovely it must have been to pick one up and put it back in the air...

Gramma Ann said...

I am not familiar with the Swift, I will google it and become familiar. Your commentary taught me much, but I need to see a picture of one.

Gramma Ann said...

I just learned that the swifts and treeswifts have long been considered to be relatives of the hummingbird. Just how that was arrived at, I don't quite understand.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

An amazing bird. Obviously different than our chimney swift. You were fortunate to see one so close.

The poem is really fine. I like it a lot.

Rowan said...

I love to see and hear the swifts, no sign of them here as yet nor any of their kin the swallows. It was so lovely to read of the farmer giving the young swift the help it needed to fly again thus saving it from a slow death by starvation.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I loved the poem!
We dont' have them here, but I do wish we did. They sound fascinating. How do they sleep in the sky?

Derrick said...

Hello Weaver,

Yet another tribute to the wonders of nature. Your poem does it justice.

Leenie said...

I could see the swifts through your poem. The simple quality of your poetry reminds me of this visual in a different way.

'The Well Rising'
by William Stafford

The well rising without sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through the deep ground
everywhere in the field —

The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer —

The swallow heart from wing beat to wing beat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place my feet
with care in such a world.

I look forward to your posts.

Leilani Lee said...

Your past three posts have been so lovely. We have the chimney swift here, and they nest in some old buildings downtown. I love to see them. They circle and twitter at each other

Heather said...

Your poem is beautiful. How wonderful to have that opportunity of studying the swift at such close quarters. Birds are nearly always on the move and we don't often get a chance to see just how beautiful they are. I always thought wrens were little brown birds, but recently caught sight of one quite near and was surprised that they have delicate greyish creamy markings.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Grand poem,what agreat thrill to set this iconic bird unto the skies again.First poem I had published was...

Are they swifts or swallows?
I can never tell
and did either of them
ever make a summer anyway ?
Hard to believe now,
in the detritus and deus ex machina of our lives,
as we look
with cool Autumnal stare,
that once vital, we loved and bobbed and weaved, upon the wing,
dewy eyed and without a care.

willow said...

The swift is new to me, too. In high school, back in the early
70's when someone would bungle something, we would say "swift"! :^)

BT said...

That's a lovely poem Weaver. I don't think we get swifts. I have seen them in the UK though.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

What a beautiful poem! It makes me feel wistful.

And how lovely to be able to help the swift by launching it back into the air again!

Cloudia said...

You nicely share your exultation in these extraordinary visitors. So well done! Aloha

The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes Juliet - it was a lovely experience.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Gramma ann - I shall have to do some reading up on that myself.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Scribe for the comment - do you not have swifts like ours.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Rowan - here on the farmer the young swift's death would have more likely been at the claws of one of the farm cats.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Pamela - how they sleep on the wing is one of life's mysteries. In the days of Gilbert White, who wrote the history of Selborne - he thought that swifts spent the winter in the mud at the bottom of the pond - the idea that they could migrate to Africa was just too ridiculous for him to contemplate.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Derrick - have the swallow reached you yet?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you for that poem Leenie - I have never seen it before and think it lovely.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Leilani Lee - I think the chimney swift is probably a different bird - I shall have to look it up in my World Birds after doing my blog. Thanks for the comment. It is all these comments and questions that make blogging worthwhile, isn't it?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Heather - I know what you mean about wrens - one hopped onto a ledge just outside my kitchen window one day - I could not believe the beautiful markings.

The Weaver of Grass said...

tfi - that is one beautiful poem - thank you for putting it on my blog.

The Weaver of Grass said...

willow - there do not seem to be swifts in the US - that is strange really when you think how far they can fly - but I suppose it is one of life's little mysteries.

The Weaver of Grass said...

BT are you sure you don't get swifts in Ireland? I would have thought they would have come there because your damp climate makes lots of midges and that is their favourite food.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Raph - I would like to see a wistful giraffe - it conjures up such a lovely image - in fact they (you) are rather wistful creatures anyway I think.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks Cloudia. Aloha

Dragonstar said...

Only once have I seen a swift. Wonderful birds.

Mistlethrush said...

I'm waiting for the swifts too. We don't get them much where I live but I do see them when I go walking.

The swift did well to get airborne from a raised hand. He must have launched it very well. Because there legs are so short they haven't got the ground clearance to flap. I've heard that a good way to help is by launching them from a second storey window - sounds drastic I know.

BT said...

Oh I'm sure they are in Ireland, it's just we haven't spotted them. First swallow yesterday though! Hoorah!