Speedy Aerialists Need Our Help

Chimney Swifts are small, acrobatic birds that migrate from the Amazon Basin of Peru, Brazil and Chile and come to nest here beginning in mid-April. Easily observed, they are a common sight in many urban areas of Wisconsin -- if you know what you are looking for. As noted in the Breeding Bird Atlas of Wisconsin: "Chittering overhead, these expert aerialists claim the daytime skies as their own.... These fast-flying, constantly-on-the-go birds only rest at night or when sitting on eggs." But many people haven't ever really "seen" a Chimney Swift since the birds spend all day in flight and when they show up around chimneys are often mistaken for bats.

Chimney Swift Working Group

Because of growing interest and concern for the declining Chimney Swift population in Wisconsin, the new Western Great Lakes Bird & Bat Observatory has organized a statewide Chimney Swift Working Group, which already has held several meetings and enlisted more than 30 participants. The group has developed both short- and long-term objectives.

Short-term goals

·         Establish Swift Sits/Swift Nights Out for the end of summer/early autumn 2013 for Wisconsin, with the objective of adding or extending 50 such events. Already in existence are events in Madison, Green Bay, Whitefish Bay, Shorewood, Lake Mills, Richland Center, Fountain City, Fort Aktinson. In 2013 ,several new Milwaukee area events will be held,  including at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve north of Port Washington in Ozaukee County.

For Bird City communities and their partners, this is an IDEAL event – it is easy and FUN –  you only need to be able to identify ONE species!).  It has great potential in areas that already are recognized as Bird City communities and in places that would like to use a Chimney Swift project to meet their initial or High Flyer criteria.

The following items we mentioned here last year have been accomplished:

  • Create a dedicated Wisconsin CHSW Working Group webpage on the Observatory website.
  • Collect information from partners on their swift activities, including printed flyers, photos/videos of events, construction of towers, etc.
  • Create Vision and Mission for CHSW Working Group

Long-term goals

  • Create webpage for entering Swift Night Out/Swift Sit count data.
  • Create web-based pathway for entering monitoring data (primarily, and easiest-to-do: using eBird).
  • Establish a long-term monitoring program for 2013 and beyond.
  • Create citizen-science project for identifying occupied chimneys, contacting building owners, educating, working with and recognizing “swift landlords.”
  • Assist partners with chimney swift tower construction projects.
If you're interested in joining the Working Group, contact Bill Mueller at the Observatory wpmueller1947@gmail.com  and have him add you to his contact list

Chimney Swifts nest throughout the state, preferring human-made structures such as chimneys. They are found not only in populated areas like cities and towns, but also in rural areas with scattered farm buildings. Historically, they nested and roosted on the interior walls of hollow trees. As old forests were cut down, the birds adapted to a man-made habitat – masonry chimneys.

Modern chimneys, however, have displaced the birds as the chimney’s metal or ceramic liners leave the birds nowhere to perch, leaving fewer places for the swifts to nest. Also, many homeowners are installing screens or capping their chimneys to prevent birds and other wildlife from entering, which eliminates other potential nesting sites.

Chimney Swift populations in Wisconsin have declined by more than 2% annually for the last 28 years, making them one of the target species for protection under the Bird City Wisconsin program. Under the Basic Requirements for Bird City recognition, one qualification criteria is for a community to be represented in at least one bird monitoring program such as Swift Night Out. As communities seek to strengthen their commitment to urban bird conservation and earn a High Flyer Award from Bird City, they will need to meet additional bird protection criteria. Among those is offering a program to preserve Chimney Swift roosting sites and/or constructing alternative Chimney Swift towers, which are essentially fake-chimney nesting structures.

Swift Night Out is a continent-wide Chimney Swift roost monitoring project launched in 2001. To participate, you will need to locate a Chimney Swift roost in your area. On one night between Aug. 7 and Sept. 30, you observe the roost starting about 30 minutes before dusk and estimate the number of swifts that enter.

Here is the link for more details and to report your results

Andy Paulios coordinator of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, encourages Wisconsin residents to enter their Chimney Swift (or any other bird sightings) into Wisconsin  Web Button Small.  "This is a great program managed by Cornell that tracks bird populations across the Western Hemisphere.  It keeps track of your life list and makes your observations available to the larger ornithological community," Paulios said.

 Nearby, Audubon Minnesota has initiated the Chimney Swift Conservation Project as part of its Audubon at Home program. The project partners with parks, nature centers, schools, corporations, individuals and others to construct artificial chimneys and Chimney Swift towers and to educate citizens about what they can to do help this species. Here are some of the things Audubon at Home suggests:

    • Plant native trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses that will attract more insects than non-natives. Chimney Swifts feed exclusively on flying insects.
    • Investigate the possibility of an alternative venting system if you are converting a furnace or hot water heater to gas, leaving the chimney unlined and uncapped for the swifts.
    • Encourage your neighborhood parks, schools, and businesses to consider building an artificial nesting structure.

Here's the link for more details

And here are a few more links worth checking out:

  Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Chimney Swifts
  Maryland Department of Natural Resources - Chimney Swift Tower Plans
  Chimney Swifts.org
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