The summer birds

The swifts are back to their nests above our windows. The last few days have been alternately rainy, windy and somewhat normal, which means that I've only been able to watch them dance in the airs at intervals. Also, I'm still chained to my computer, and haven't got around to indulging in ten minutes of doing nothing except watch the swifts fly. It's annoying, but it will be over soon.

I don't know if there are swifts where you're from. If you've never noticed them, they're a pure joy to watch. They look like large swallows, with long wings shaped like a crossbow. And they're incredibly lithe. They fly haphazardly, like insects, only much faster, and much higher up in the sky, hundreds of metres above the roofs. When they zoom back down to their nests, faster than cars on a motorway, they soar past our windows, so close you can see every little feather on their tail, though only for a fraction of a second. They never seem to miss their aim. They use their tail to navigate, stretching it or bracing it to turn and brake, or so I'm told. How they can dance so beautifully and with such control, using only a few tail feathers, is beyond my imagination.

In France, the cries of the swifts mean summer, although few people realise it anymore. But if you took them away, I'm sure the whole country would find the summer drab and sad. I hope it doesn't happen. Sadly, new buildings are hardly a good ground for swifts to build their nests. There are no holes under the tiles or in the concrete, and architects don't bother to add artificial cavities. It's a real shame–swifts are among the cleanest birds around. They wouldn't be a nuisance, only add a little bit of happiness.

First-world cities were born from an unfortunate combination, I suppose: old rural mentalities still make it common to consider wild living things as a nuisance, and new urban environments often harm them, even when we're not trying to. Wouldn't it be time to start realising that other species are not threatening us anymore, and to give them a little space when we appropriate the ground?

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