Monday, June 25, 2007

Animal of the Week -- June 25, 2007

Being a little UK and summer centric at the moment, I know, but I am like some weird child who can only think about what he sees, you know that by now.

This week's animal of the week is another sure sign and sound of summer, so tightly associated with the season in my mind that just thinking about them gives me a tan, which, given the weather here at the moment and my lack of holiday funds, is the only way I'm going to get one this year. This week's animal is Apus apus (common swift).

Flocks of these most aerial of all birds wheeling over the village squares, town halls, and city skyscapes screaming and careening in pursuit of airborne plankton are a common and stunning sight across Europe. Appearing in early May and remaining until late July. Outside their brief visit to these temperate climes, swifts fly thousands of miles to sub-Saharan Africa.

Common swifts live nearly their whole lives on the wing, they are even able to sleep in flight. Their nests are made from floating feathers, petals, and light grasses gathered on the wing and glued together with spit, and all their food -- small insects and floating spiders -- is caught in flight, scooped up in kamikaze dives near the ground or sifted from the atmosphere so high up that from the ground the birds become tiny crescent-shaped specks. Swifts never land on the ground, only punctuating their endless flight with occasional breaks clinging to vertical surfaces with their tiny feet (apus means no feet) and their brief nesting period.

Although they look like swallows and martins, and have similar migratory patterns, swifts are more closely related to hummingbirds than any other birds, weird. You can distinguish swifts from swallows and martens as the former are slightly larger, and their wings are more curved, appearing as a perfect sickle. Swifts also never land on the ground, only punctuating their endless flight with occasional breaks clinging to vertical surfaces. Their exhilarating, screaming call also sets swifts apart. One swallow may not a summer make, but for me, a flock of swifts, certainly helps.

I think my contemplative mood today is evident, so you can do your own swift swallow martin innuendo yourself. Oh, there you go then.


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