'Every day they've been coming out, bringing me coffee' - artist completes Edinburgh swift mural

A 24-metre long mural has been unveiled to celebrate Edinburgh’s iconic swifts.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 4:49 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 4:53 pm
The mural in Leith. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

City artist Natasha Russell spent a month painting the mural in Duke Street, by Leith Links, as part of the "Swift City Project" to fight the decline of the birds.

RSPB Scotland recently named Edinburgh as Scotland's first "swift city", a scheme including a citywide trail featuring cycling routes and walking paths as well as nest boxes to enhance the Capital's swift population and a series of artworks to raise awareness of their plight.

Natasha's mural depicts the swifts' summer migration from the Democratic Republic of Congo over the Algerian Sahara desert and through the Mediterranean to Edinburgh for the nesting season.

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Natasha, 32, said: "Completing this mural over the past few weeks has been really enjoyable. Its purpose is to raise awareness and get people talking about swifts in this area and hopefully also brighten up people's daily walks around Leith Links.

"The response has been really positive, from people on walks who have stopped to chat about their swift sightings to the residents who live above the mural, who allowed us to use their wall. Every day they've been coming out, bringing me coffee and giving their support."

Swifts used to be seen in large numbers swooping across the rooftops in Scotland's urban areas. Nicknamed devil birds because of their distinctive screams, they can reach up to 70 miles per hour -- the fastest of any bird in level flight.

But the bird is also one of Scotland's fastest declining, with the population crashing by 58 per cent north of the Border between 1995 and 2018, thought to be linked to habitat loss and climate change.

RSPB Scotland's first swift trail aims to protect and enhance the swift population, by connecting areas that are important for the birds across the city, including key green spaces where people can see swifts feeding and log sightings on an app to help conservation.

It features walking paths around Leith Links and Arthur's Seat and cycle routes for people of different abilities, as well as "Swift Streets", where multiple buildings in pesticide free areas have had nest boxes installed and wildflowers to support the insect populations the birds feed on.

Ecologist Katie O'Neill, RSPB Scotland's Edinburgh Swift City project officer, said: "Swift Cities is about turning Edinburgh into a swift sanctuary.

"I hope Natasha's mural will become a popular landmark on our Leith Links walking path, raising awareness and getting people talking about swifts."

The swifts that nest in Scotland arrive in summer and nest in manmade structures – old, tall buildings like churches and cathedrals with cavities as well as old houses and blocks of flats where they can nest at their preferred height above five metres.

Their loyalty to nesting sites is a critical factor as they have suffered from a reduction in sites due to building conversions and renovations in recent years.

Declines are thought to be caused by a range of issues both here and on their long migration routes and distant wintering grounds. In the UK, modern buildings lack the nooks and crannies swifts need, and they can struggle to find homes.