chimney swifts

For awhile, I’ve been meaning to edit some DV footage shot in Nova Scotia in July 2005. Last night, I finally got around to doing a bit of work and came across this very short but interesting clip of Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) descending into the chimney of the Robie Tufts Nature Centre in Wolfville, N.S. The movie clip isn’t exactly terrific (story of my life when it comes to video stuff), but it’s kind of neat to watch regardless. It’s about 20 seconds long and about 1.2MB and may be viewed using QuickTime. It was growing dark when the swifts finally decided to go into the chimney for the night, and they are so small and quick, so that didn’t make for ideal taping, but you’ll get some idea of the scene. What you’ll see is the main group of swifts funneling down into the narrow brick chimney. 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.

Something should also be said about the Robie Tufts Nature Centre in Wolfville. It’s located on Front Street and is a sort of pavilion built around the brick chimney that is all that remains of a former dairy. The centre is surrounded by a small park with benches. It’s named after Robie W. Tufts, who was a noted ornithologist and long-time resident of the town. On many summer evenings, people from the town, as well as visitors to the area, gather in the park to watch the swifts make their descent into the chimney around dusk. A few volunteers attempt to count the swifts each evening and keep a tally sheet posted on the bulletin board in the center (the time of each evening’s activity also recorded). I gather that this has been an ongoing volunteer project for some time. If you would like to know more about the swifts or the nature centre, visit the above link as it contains quite a lot of info.

On a bit of a down note, I should probably mention that the swift population in Nova Scotia has probably received a blow over the past few months. I subscribe to NatureNS, a nature listserv for Nova Scotia, and last autumn there were a number of reports of swifts which had not migrated south due to unusual weather conditions — perhaps a combination of a very warm autumn in N.S., as well as the hurricane activity (especially Katrina), which seemed to be driving birds back to the north. Swifts were being found dead after they had taken refuge in the chimneys of buildings when furnaces began to be used in the late autumn. It will remain to be seen what impact this will have on the resident populations this summer.

Anyhow, if you’re ever in the Wolfville area in summer, do make a point of spending an evening watching for the swifts at the nature centre. As mentioned, times and counts are posted, so you can drop by earlier in the day to try to get some idea when you might expect to see the swifts make their descent. That leaves you free to wander around the town and maybe have dinner somewhere, then return to the park in time to see the swifts. In all likelihood, you’ll meet a number of residents and visitors at the park and enjoy some good conversation while waiting for the swifts.


Tags: , , ,

  • Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Trackback URI:
  • Comments RSS 2.0

14 Responses to “chimney swifts”

  1. burning silo Says:

    Well, apparently the .mov clip doesn’t work for some people — sorry if you’re one of them. However, rest assured, you weren’t missing much. The still frame grab might actually be more exciting than the dark, blurry clip! Don’t despair — I’m told that my Psycho-Squirrel vs. Bronco Bunny movie works well for just about everyone and you can actually SEE something! Maybe give that one a try if you haven’t already.


  2. Jeff Says:

    Hi Bev,

    Just checking out your updated site, looks great! :)

    BTW, there are some chimney swifts in Kingston too, in the summertime at least… if you go down to the Marine Museum (on Ontario Street), you can see a large colony of these birds circling to enter the old stone chimney at around dusk…it’s very cool.


  3. burning silo Says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for checking out the updated site and also dropping by to check out the Burning Silo blog.

    Also thanks for the info on the chimney swifts in Kingston. I had heard there were some around there, but had no idea which building they gathered in. I will most definitely make a point of tripping on down there to watch for the swifts some night this coming summer!


  4. Peter Says:

    Commenting on an old post, I know. As Jeff mentioned, you can see these in Kingston. I did not know that you could see them circling into the Marine Museum, which is too bad, since I recently just moved from Kingston downtown area (10 minute walk to the site mentioned), to Nova Scotia, just west of Halifax. I could see these bats pretty regularly around the trees feeding in late evening.

    I plan on doing some camping in a park near Wolfville (which incidently isnt to far from ANOTHER Kingston) in August, and will deffinitly make a point to check this out. I’ll be taking a couple of cameras along.

    I will also be camping near Parrsboro across the bay.

  5. burning silo Says:

    Hello Peter – It’s never too late to comment on a post! Yes, too bad you didn’t know about the swifts when you were in Kingston, Ont. There are actually swifts at a couple of other locations in the Annapolis Valley – I think one place might be the Middleton School, but don’t quote me on that. I don’t know if you’ll see this note, but if you do — do you know about the NatureNS listserv? If you aren’t already subscribed and are interested in things to do with natural history in Nova Scotia, you might enjoy it. If you want more info, just email me (see my contact info on the “About” page of this blog.

  6. Steve Norris Says:

    Hi: I live near Asheville, NC, about 50 miles from the Smokey Mountain National Park: A friend of mine here started watching swifts several yars ago, and two years ago started a swift watch in late September as they gather in chimneys downtown in preparation for the flights south. As many as a hundred or more people show up on an evening for these watches, as they are downtown in a tourist area anyway. We see thousands of swifts. No one here has figured out how to count them, as tehy move very fast and there are thosuand spread over a half mile or so of sky. This year we have had a problem because the swifts are not using the chimney on the Grove Arcade where they have congregated in the past. But my friend and I spent an evening scouting the city and found them in a chimney at the Middle School, where the custodian says he has been watching them, thinking they were bats, for several years.

    I’ve been contemplating something and wonder if you have any hunchews. I’m from NBew England where teh mosquitoes are so bad that you can seldom sit outside in the evening., Here in the NC mountains, where there is plenty of water, and rainfall very similar to New England, there are very few mosqiotoes in most places. Has anyone to your knowledge done any research about correlating swift and mosquito populations. If not, perhaps we could do it. It could be very interesting, and might be a partial answer to mosquito born dieases.

    Thanks for all you have done. Please reply by email.

    Steve Norris

  7. Laiku Oh Says:

    The chimney swifts…The chimney swifts…were pouring into the chimney.

  8. burning silo Says:

    Laiku – Yes, it does look just like they are pouring into the chimney. Once the birds decide to go down into the chimeny, it happens so quickly that if you aren’t watching very closely, you would miss it!

  9. Laiku Oh Says:

    I guess so, they were going in like mad. That’s why they have their name- the chimney swifts. But why do they go in? I understand nests, but there were so many of them.

  10. burning silo Says:

    Laiku – I think they stay together at night in places that feel safe to them. Swifts move around together while hunting insects and at night, they try to find a safe place to gather. In some places, they will go inside of a large hollowed out tree. In cities, they look for a chimney that they will return to each evening after capturing insects just before sunset. They cling to the sides of the inside of the chimney.

  11. Laiku Oh Says:

    Ohhhh… So they camp out in places a s a large, happy little family! How warming… :)

  12. Laiku Oh Says:


  13. Laiku Oh Says:

    Chimney swifts certainly live up to their name.

  14. Burning Silo » Blog Archive » chimney swift migration watch - citizen science Says:

    […] 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. […]