The phrase “screaming parties” may conjure up toddlers’ birthdays, but nature provides us with a creature that hurtles round faster, and more noisily, than any jelly-fuelled three-year-old. Summer brings swifts to our skies and never was a bird better named.

They have been clocked at speeds of 70mph (112kmh) in level flight. Peregrine falcons are faster, but only when diving. Swifts hit these speeds without the aid of gravity and even while climbing into the sky.

They do so while emitting a distinctive shriek that is the summer soundtrack of our towns and cities. As swifts feed higher in the air than swallows or martins, they are less affected by urban pollution and more common in built-up areas. They are, however, affected by the weather and can’t hunt insects in heavy rain.

To cope, they use their remarkable speed to cover huge distances, avoiding bad weather and finding warm air currents that lift bugs into the air for them. This long commute can cover 500 miles in a day. It can also mean leaving their nests for several days.

Swift chicks are resilient latch-key kids and go into a torpor, lowering their body temperature and metabolic rate to conserve energy. They stay in battery-saving mode until their parents return with food.

In the nest they prepare for flight by doing ‘press-ups’ on their wing tips. Once fledged, youngsters take to the air with their parents to display, whizzing around our streets in those screaming parties. They are quite a sight, with black plumage and sharp, scythe like wings. making them look, in the words of the poet Edward Thomas, “as if the bow had flown off with the arrow.”

These young birds aren’t just built for speed. They do marathons too. Migration to the Congo can see them travelling up to 17,000 miles. But it doesn’t end there. Swifts often don’t land until they are old enough to breed at 3 or 4 years old. They even sleep on the wing, circling on air currents high in the sky until morning.

Summer wouldn’t be the same without them, but that is a worrying possibility. Swift numbers have declined by over 50% in the last 20 years, mainly because of a lack of nesting spaces. Swifts use gaps in the eaves of buildings. As house designs have changed, these gaps are being lost. We can help them easily by leaving spaces for them or putting up nesting boxes tailored for swifts. Have a look online for your nearest swift support group or to buy a nest box. You’ll be helping to save one of our most amazing birds and keeping that summer soundtrack screaming.