chimney swift migration watch – citizen science

Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) descending into the chimney of the
Robie Tufts Nature Centre pavilion in Wolfville, N.S. – July 2005

I’ve just added an new link to the Citizen Science page on this blog. This one is for Chimney Swift spring sightings on the Driftwood Wildlife Association’s Chimney website. If you visit that page, you’ll see an updating map of 2007 first sightings. There’s an email address just below for reporting your first sighting of the season.

If you haven’t watched Chimney Swifts entering a chimney in the evening, it’s quite a treat. When we were in Nova Scotia in July 2005, we visited the Robie Tufts Nature Centre one evening, waiting with other visitors, to see the swifts descend into the chimney. You can read about it on this February 2006 post. I shot a little video clip of the event — not terrific as it was growing dark and my DVcamcorder isn’t that terrific — but it will give you some idea of how quickly the swifts can fly. Sorry it’s only in QT version as I wasn’t doing .mp4 clips at that time. As I wrote in back in February 2006:

They remind me a bit of falling leaves as they go into the final descent – but also a bit like a stream of dark smoke going into reverse and being sucked back into a chimney. There is sound on the clip — not great, but you should be able to hear the twittering of the swifts.

This morning, I did a bit more exploring around the Driftwood Wildlife Association’s Chimney website and discovered that artifical Chimney Swift towers are being constructed around North America, in order to provide suitable roost sites. Natural sites would be hollow trees, but swifts also like tall chimneys and will nest in them during the summer season when the chimneys aren’t in use. As so many old chimneys are now being demolished, and large hollow trees are scarce, these artificial chimney towers provide a suitable substitute. You can read more about it here. And here’s a map of known Chimney Swift towers. It looks like there must be one in western Quebec, perhaps not too far from my location here in eastern Ontario. If you go to that map page, there’s a photo of an artificial tower down below, and links to more information on their construction. If I were certain we would remain here for an extended period of time, I would definitely consider building one.

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14 Responses to “chimney swift migration watch – citizen science”

  1. Mark Says:

    It’s been a long time since I saw chimney swifts. I guess there aren’t that many open chimneys around here any more.

  2. Marcia Bonta Says:

    Reminds me of Althea Sherman, the so-called Chimney Swift lady that I wrote about in my books WOMEN IN THE FIELD and AMERICAN WOMEN AFIELD. In Iowa, she drew up the plans and built a tower that not only provided a place for chimney swifts to nest, but that provided her with windows to watch their progress. That was back in the early years of the twentieth century.

  3. robin andrea Says:

    That’s an incredible little video to watch, bev. It really does look like dark smoke going in reverse. I’ve never seen Chimney Swifts. I just checked our Sibley’s Field Guide, and we don’t have Swifts here. Too bad, they’re such an interesting bird.

  4. burning silo Says:

    Mark – Yes, from what I understand, that’s the problem now – not enough large, hollow trees, or suitable chimneys for roosting and nesting. The chimney in Wolfville is all that remains of an old dairy, and there’s a roof built around it. The structure is being maintained just for the swifts, which is quite neat. Maybe other towns would do something similar if more people knew about the need for such structures.

    Marcia -How interesting! It did mention Althea Sherman somewhere on the Chimney website. I thought that was very interesting — and yes, as it was in the early twentieth century. Obviously, she was a very conservation minded woman.

    robin – Isn’t it incredible. It all happens so quickly. I understand that was actually a smaller number than usual that evening. Hard to imagine such large numbers of birds diving into a chimney almost simultaneously. I too checked their range and noticed they are shown as being east of the Rockies. However, you have the Water Ouzels out there — I just love them and could watch them all day long!

  5. Cathy Says:

    Oh yes! In my home town of Loudonville, in central Ohio – I can still watch the chimney swifts at dusk as they swirl into the chimney of the school building that my mother and I both graduated from. I’m going to send this link to my brother who still lives there so that he can participate. Ah, Spring.

  6. Wren Says:

    I’ve never seen them live, but now I want to more than ever.

  7. burning silo Says:

    Cathy – How interesting! Apparently, there are some locally, so I’ll have to do some reconnaissance to see if I can find them some evening.

    Wren – I wonder how many people have actually seen them going into chimneys? My guess is that the number must be few as there are less opportunities to see them.

  8. Cathy Says:

    Oh! A little clarification there Bev. I mean I can ‘still’ watch them as I did when I was a child – not that they remain all winter.

  9. Bob Strong Says:

    Love your site…and the site of the swifts dropping into our Budd Middle School chimney…my home office over looks the Mohican valley and i can see the swifts (and the school chimeny) …along with night hawks, along with the deer who have finally stopped eating my holly plants…and now i am watching a bald eagle climbing high above the vally to watch for prey in the Clear Fork, the Black Fork and the Pleasant Hill Damn…and the best of all, is NOT a bird but a ground hog knawing on the corner of our home! What is that all about? By the way, we have been watching the chimney swifts for as long as i can remember…and that would be over 50 years…my sister, however is only 27–at least that is what she keeps telling me…she’s a year older… you do the math

  10. burning silo Says:

    Bob – Thank you! It sounds like you’ve got a great view of all kinds of wildlife out your window! We have a few ground hog around here, but have never had one chew on the house — at least not yet! I would love to be able to watch a population of chimney swifts each summer. Hmm…. I don’t think I’ll try to do that math. I’ll take your word for it that she’s 27! (-:

  11. Joyce Says:

    It’s interesting to read reference to Althea Sherman; I live in National, Iowa where Miss Sherman swift tower was originally located. Through unfortunate circumstances it left National and is now in much disrepair. Interested citizens of Clayton County have now formed a committee to bring the tower back. However, because its inaccessibilty and disrepair, we have now decided to build a replica. It will be located near where the original tower was located. The National Cemetery Association has graciously agreed to provide space to erect the tower. That decision was made only last month, so now we are proceeding with funding raising ideas. I live near the location and have seen chimney swifts around our chimney, so we hope to bring even more back to National (pronounced with long “a”, by the way: nay shun nul)

  12. burning silo Says:

    Joyce – Thanks for leaving a comment and describing what has happened to the swift tower. It’s good to hear that there’s a group that will build a replica. I hope that it will quickly attract a good population of swifts!

  13. ChristineMM Says:

    A few minutes ago the Chimney Swifts returned to our chimneys (Fairfield County, Connecticut, USA).

    I have managed to keep my husband from installing chimney cages to keep them out. I enjoy them, actually.

    We have three chimneys and we used to have just one used by the Chimney Swifts. However last winter one neighbor put a cage on her chimney and the birds that formerly nested there were kept out. So in 2006 we had two chimneys used by two different birds.

    Just had to share my joy that they are back!

  14. burning silo Says:

    Hi Christine – That does sound pretty exciting and I’d be happy to find swifts in my chimney(s). It’s too bad that more people won’t allow the swifts to use their chimneys in summer as there aren’t as many places for them to go anymore — between the lack of large trees with cavities, and less accessible chimneys now. Enjoy your summer of swift sightings!