Readers’ wildlife photos

July 22, 2014 • 4:35 am

Surprise! More birds today. (Where are you insect folks?)

Reader Mal Morrison from Devon sent pictures of  Common Swifts and some information:

For some time I’ve been trying to get some decent photos of Swifts (Apus apus) in flight. This is partly because I find them fascinating but mainly because capturing images present a real challenge. There are difficulties because of their speed and erratic flight and also with exposing a dark bird against a bright sky. These were taken just outside my home in Plymouth, Devon. While the birds are quite often high on the wing, they occasionally return to their nesting area and fly at low level over the rooftops and trees. Whether they do this just to check out ‘home’ or maybe for orientation I have no idea but they were doing this when these were taken. Swifts eat, mate and sleep in the air. (According to this site, they can sleep/fly as high as 10000 feet!)


Mal added this:

These were taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mk 3 camera using the 100-400mm lens with an exposure of 2000th of a second.


And what is a set of bird photos without one by Stephen Barnard from Idaho?  This one came in an email titled “Swainson’s Hawk starting a dive for prey.”

Swainson's hawk starting dive

Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) is found in the western U.S. and Canada and overwinters in southeastern South America. Here’s its range from the Cornell Ornithology site:


10 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

    1. I was skeptical about the sleeping-in-flight thing. On the face of it, it seems impossible, since sleep (as we know it) involves muscle paralysis. A bird that tried that in flight would fall right out of the sky.

      So I did a bit of reading and it turns out what they’re talking about is a phenomenon called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep, which basically means that the two halves of the brain take turns sleeping, like a married couple on an all-night road trip: one sleeps while the other drives, and you trade off periodically.

      At least, it’s conjectured that swifts do this. Other birds are known to do it, but (not surprisingly) nobody has been able to get EEGs of swifts in flight to verify that they do it too. All we really know is that they don’t sleep in their nests.

  1. Swifts in flight? WOW! I’ll never live that long. Very impressive indeed, Mal!

    Lovely Swainson’s (as usual), Stephen!

    Professor CC, I do have some bugshots, but I thought you wanted us to wait until you returned to Chicago.

  2. Where in Plymouth(roughly) did you take these,Mal? I haven’t seen any swifts this year although they were common when I lived nearer to the Sound.

    1. @Stephen These were taken in Devonport. I was in Cumberland Gardens opposite the Co-op at the end of George Sreet. There is a group of about 10 birds centred on this area.

  3. I have noticed that on certain days, shortly before it rains, swifts fly at a low altitude. I was told that it is because of meteorological pressure, insects fly at a much lower altitude so the swifts feed at that lower altitude. When they fly at a lower altitude, one can hear their calls, a kind of high-pitched rather shrill kind of whistle sound. They are fascinating birds.

    I once found a young swift on the ground – it was not hurt but was obviously hungry. I called the local bird rescue association and they told me to feed it small pieces of raw meat using tweezers, which I did. The next day, they put me in contact with a lady who was soon to fly to Africa because according to the bird rescue people, this young swift was too weak to follow his fellow swifts on their migration to Africa and had been left behind. I duly met with the lady and handed her the cardboard box (with holes in it for air, of course) in which I was keeping the swift so that she could bring it to Africa. I wonder how many swifts got to migrate to Africa by plane!

Leave a Reply