A state wildlife biologist encourages South Carolina residents to take part in the sixth annual “Swift Night Out” in August and September to help count these fascinating birds.
As summer draws to a close and chimney swifts have finished raising their young, these fascinating aerial acrobats begin to congregate in communal roosts prior to their migration in the fall, according to Laurel Barnhill, statewide bird conservation coordinator with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Some chimney swift roosts may consist of an extended family group of a half a dozen birds or so, but the larger sites can host hundreds or even thousands of swifts.
Here is how “Swift Night Out” works: Keep your eyes to the skies at dusk and watch for areas where swifts are feeding. Look for a tall shaft, chimney or similar structure to locate where chimney swifts go to roost in your area. On one night over the weekend of Aug. 11-13, and/or Sept. 8-10, observe the roost starting about 30 minutes before dusk and estimate the number of swifts that enter. When you have your number, go to the Web site for the North American Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project in Austin, Texas, at www.chimneyswifts.org, and click on the “Swift Night Out” link to learn how to report the results. That's all there is to it!
“We encourage South Carolina bird-lovers to involve their local Audubon chapters, bird clubs, Scout groups and neighbors in this exhilarating spectacle,” Barnhill said.
Chimney swift migration occurs in March and April as the birds move northward from wintering grounds in Peru, according to Barnhill. The chimney swift is an aerial acrobat that resembles a small dark swallow (and sometimes is even mistaken for a bat) and spends most its day in flight feeding exclusively on flying insects, many times in groups. Later in the spring it will glue small twigs to the inside of a chimney with its saliva and lay four to five white eggs.
The chimney swift should be familiar to most homeowners because of it chimney-nesting habits, Barnhill said. Before the country was settled, swifts nested in large hollow trees, but as the country was developed, and large trees were cut down, swifts started nesting in chimneys. This adaptation has been so complete that swifts now rarely nest in hollow trees. However, with the increasing popularity of capped chimneys, swifts are finding many of their former chimney homes unavailable to them. This could be disastrous for the long-term population health of chimney swifts, as they will have no place to nest.