Seven-metre tower at hospital car park encouraging swifts to nest

The tower at the new N&N hospital car park has been built to encourage swifts to nest.

The tower at the new N&N hospital car park has been built to encourage swifts to nest. Inset photo credit: Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Credit: Will Nash

An eye-catching tower has been built near the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital to encourage swifts to nest.

The seven-metre-tall steel tower was designed and fabricated by award-winning sculptor, Will Nash. It features 12 nest boxes, to accommodate 24 swifts and their chicks. 

Commissioned by Norwich developers RG Carter, it is now in place on Rosalind Franklin Road at the entrance to the recently completed hospital multi-storey car park.

An audio system has been installed to play pre-recorded swift calls to attract the birds to nest in the structure.

Commissioned by Norwich developers RG Carter, to swift nesting tower is now in place 

Commissioned by Norwich developers RG Carter, to swift nesting tower is now in place at the entrance to the recently completed hospital multi-storey car park. - Credit: Will Nash

The Sussex-based artist specialises in creating bespoke habitable sculptures. His other recent works around the UK have included a hollow stone structure with space for bats to roost in and a seat with habitat for bugs and small creatures.


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He said: “I was attracted to the project by the challenge of making an artwork that was also a viable habitat for a particular bird. 

“Swifts ideally need a drop of at least six metres from their nest, so the tower had to be quite tall.”

Artist Will Nash

Artist Will Nash said he was attracted to the project by the challenge of making an artwork that was also a viable habitat for swifts. - Credit: Will Nash

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Swifts arrive back in the UK at the end of April to nest before they migrate in September through France and Spain to spend the winter in Africa. 

Their numbers are in decline, partly due to loss of habitat. 

As a species, they have evolved to rely on human architecture, in particular the eaves of houses, to nest in. But as we make our homes more airtight, they have fewer places in which to nest.

The swift nesting tower being built.

The swift nesting tower being built. - Credit: Will Nash

A petition was recently launched calling for Norwich City Council to take into account nesting habits of swifts and other small birds in new housing developments.

Some developments make use of swift bricks - specifically designed bricks with holes bored out, allowing just enough space for a swift or similar sized bird to make a home.

The nesting tower includes an audio system to play pre-recorded swift calls.

The nesting tower includes an audio system to play pre-recorded swift calls. - Credit: Will Nash

The Norwich tower is constructed from birch plywood but its exterior is larch, traditionally used for cladding houses 

Mr Nash said: “The shape of the tower was drawn from several sources, including the need to have multiple eaves. This resulted in an organic form with an ecological function.”

Swift numbers are declining due to loss of habitat.

Swift numbers are declining due to loss of habitat. - Credit: Doug Mackenzie Dodds

Fact File - Swifts

  • There are currently estimated to be 87,000 pairs of swifts in the UK. They nest each year from the end of April until the beginning of August as part of an annual 14,000-mile migration.
  • It is the world’s fastest bird in level flight, reaching speeds of over 69 miles per hour. They fly continuously day and night, and only land to breed every year. 
  • Swifts can fly almost 500 miles in one day, and 1.25 million miles in their lifetime. After leaving their nest for the first time, they fly non-stop for up to three years but always return to their birthplace to mate.
  • The average lifespan of a swift is six years, but the oldest recorded swift was at least 21. 
  • When feeding chicks, an adult swift can collect 1,000 insects in their throat at once – a journey repeated up to 100 times every day.

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