Residents of four Duchy of Cornwall developments are being urged to become citizen scientists and help give a window into the world of endangered swifts in their areas.
The Big Duchy Bird Box Survey is asking residents of Nansledan and Tregunnel Hill in Newquay, Trevethow Riel in Truro, and Poundbury in Dorset to keep an eye out for swifts near their homes and record the results on a dedicated Facebook page.
As part of its commitment to the environment and increasing biodiversity, the Duchy of Cornwall has worked closely with the RSPB to pioneer the use of permanent bird boxes in its homes. As a result some 500 swift boxes have been installed across the Duchy of Cornwall estate so far, with thousands more in the planning stage.
Now the Duchy has teamed up with Dr Thais Martins, an expert in zoology and avian biology, to survey the bird boxes to determine how many are being used, and whether by swifts or other bird species.
Dr Martins said: “The Big Duchy Bird Box Survey will give us incredibly valuable data on the nesting boxes that have been installed in houses, with the aim of coming up with a code of practice for the building industry.
“Starting this breeding season we are asking residents to observe and report on the boxes, both in their own homes and in close neighbouring houses.
“With the arrival of summer, swifts will have started seeking out boxes and taking nesting materials into the boxes – with some already being occupied.”
House sparrows are usually the first occupants of the bird boxes with swifts appearing once they hear the chattering of other birds and realise the boxes are there.
House sparrows have recently taken up residence in bird boxes installed at Skol Nansledan, the Duchy’s new primary school at Newquay, despite it still being under construction, and house martins have been seen using boxes in Truro.
Endangered swifts, whose numbers have been plummeting in recent years, start breeding at the end of April, with chicks hatching from mid-June and raising chicks until August.
One of the main reasons for their decline is the refurbishment and demolition of homes and buildings, leaving them with no nooks and crannies to nest in.
Dr Martins said: “It’s a very simple survey. All we need to know is the address of the property, which way the box faces in relation to the front door and the date and species of bird using the box.
“With eagle eyes and careful recording, this is a fun way to get close to nature and make a significant contribution to monitoring bird numbers.
“In future years we hope the residents’ data will be used to inform new developments on which type of box provides better accommodation for birds as well as which location and aspect is more suitable for the different species.”
It is hoped over the next 30 years, between 5,000 and 8,000 bird boxes will be installed in the Duchy’s existing and planned developments in the UK.
For more information and to take part in the survey please visit https://www.facebook.com/TheBDBBS
The survey will run until August 10.