Authored by John Connors
Friday, May 22, after a morning of banding birds, Eddie Owens and I were getting ready to hop in our cars when he pointed to a small group of swifts circling above the Chimney Swift Roost Tower at Prairie Ridge Ecostation in west Raleigh.
As we watched, one of the birds took a quick turn and disappeared down the mouth of the chimney. We were thrilled to confirm reports from others that swifts had discovered our tower. But this wasn’t the first bit of good news Wake Audubon had received about swifts this spring.
Earlier in May, I watched four chimney swifts circle over an information kiosk at Anderson Point Park in east Raleigh. The swifts were noisy and clearly eyeing the structure. Of course this wasn’t just any old information kiosk; it was one Wake Audubon had commissioned several years ago to be built by an Eagle Scout, and it had a swift nesting chimney installed as its center.
Soon the birds circled higher, and I was able to watch a swift fly through the top of a tall maple to grab dead twigs. They returned to the kiosk. One of the swirling swifts raised its wings high, slowed down, and descended into the chimney’s center. It was the first confirmation that swifts are using the kiosk for nesting!
All of this began with Wake Audubon’s ambitious undertaking to install the Chimney Swift Roost Tower at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, a field research and education center for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.
We spent three years planning and raising funds for the $36,000 project. More than 150 of you bought inscribed bricks. We secured donations from the Carolina Bird Club and the estate of Vicki Weiss, as well as grants from the Toyota TogetherGreen by Audubon program. Frank Harmon Associates donated design services and Custom Brick & Supply of Raleigh donated the bricks. Installation of the tower was completed in November.
The tower is one of just a few large brick chimneys that have been built specifically for roosting swifts in the eastern U.S. We think it is, in fact, one of only three. Our tower is large: 30 feet tall with a 5-foot by 5-foot opening, designed to accommodate thousands of roosting swifts. There are portholes for looking inside the tower and for installing cameras and scientific equipment. We are hopeful, but there are no guarantees with these things.
Of course we did our homework, which meant contacting Paul and Georgeann Kyle in Austin, Texas, who established a chimney swift research center in Austin and spearheaded the chimneyswifts.org website. They have years of experience experimenting with the design of swift nesting structures, including the practical swift nesting information kiosk that proved successful at Anderson Point Park. And they have had some success with small roosts.
With the tower completed, our attention turns to celebrating it with you, together with experts from across North America who have tirelessly worked to conserve this species of concern. In March, Wake Audubon received a Toyota TogetherGreen Alumni Award to host a chimney swift conservation forum and workshop.
When we began thinking about hosting a forum, our first invitation was sent to the Kyles, who agreed to be our featured speakers and will give an overview of their decades spent working with swifts. But there will be more, much more.
Researchers from UNC Chapel Hill will offer a three-dimensional look at the flight patterns of swift flocks filmed flying above downtown Raleigh; Amy Weidensaul and Brian Shema from Audubon Pennsylvania will discuss educational programming at swift roosts; Charles Collins, a retired biologist from California, will compare swifts from around the world, and Larry Schwitter will describe Vaux’s Happenings in Washington state. Audubon NC plans to highlight chimney swifts across the state next year.
Join us Friday evening, August 21, at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences for the symposium. On Saturday, August 22, Wake Audubon will partner with the museum to host the Chimney Swift Family Festival at Prairie Ridge Ecostation — our official celebration of the completion of the Chimney Swift Roost Tower. This will be a family-friendly event starting mid-afternoon. The festivities will include games for all ages, such as a roost-hole corn-hole contest, swift nest and mask making, and catch-a penny stealer bug chase games. (Intrigued? We know you are!) We will also have educational tables, arts and crafts, food trucks, music, guided hikes, and a roost viewing as the sun sets. Sunday at dusk, join us for swift roost viewings at other county sites.
Details on these events will be posted here, on our Celebrate Swifts page. All are free admission.
We can use volunteer help at Family Festival. Please contact us at email@example.com if you are able to help. And please plan to attend the Friday chimney swift forum the Saturday family festival and the Sunday swift viewing the weekend of August 21-23.