On Saturday, May 28th, 2016, a good sized crowd gathered on the front lawns and Memorial Courtyard of the Provincial Courthouse on Queen St. East, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The collective ambition of the crowd, was to observe the Chimney Swifts that access the courthouse and post office chimneys to rest during their annual spring migration.
Algoma Swift Watch has been encouraging folks with ornithological passions to assemble in the downtown area of the old post office building and courthouse to observe “upwards of 2400 Chimney Swifts that visit Sault Ste. Marie each night during spring migration.” said Ron Prickett, Sault Naturalists President. “The swifts spend all day feeding on insects.”
The Chimney Swift spends most of its time flying and even forages in the air, catching its prey (flying insects) in flight. Flocks can be heard making high-pitched chipping or twittering noises as they fly above the rooftops in urban areas.
The 2nd Annual ‘Swift Night Out’, hosted by Algoma Swift Watch is an opportunity for citizens to learn from experts in the fields of ornithology, biology and conservation about these remarkable migratory birds. It’s also an opportunity to enjoy being in the great outdoors in an urban environment in The Sault’s downtown. Judging by the size and diversity of ages in the crowd, The Chimney Swift is more than a little welcome in The Sault.
Saturday evening, the weather was lovely, however heavy rains that poured down earlier in the day & early evening likely affected the chimney swifts roosting routine, according to Algoma Swift Watch.
Two years ago, “the courthouse chimney was uncapped, and it is now being used again by the birds.” shared Dr. Jennie Pearce, Algoma Swift Watch. The Provincial Courthouse chimney was capped for one year, and since removing the cap two years ago, the chimney swifts have been slow to return there. Dr. Jennie Pearce told saultonline that “Watching the chimney swifts use the courthouse chimney again was very special for Algoma Swift Watch.”
Brandon Norman has been tasked with counting the chimney swifts. “On May 13th,2016, we had the largest count which was over 1100, and they flew into the Post Office chimney on that particular evening.” he said. Brandon Norman is an Intern with Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.
“The birds disperse all over the north to single breeding chimneys; one chimney per pair. We don’t really know how far north the chimney swifts will travel to breed. There are questions to answer and that is part of the study that Algoma Swift Watch is undertaking.” shared Dr. Jennifer Foote, Associate Professor of Biology, Algoma University.
The Chimney Swift is listed as a species that is “Threatened”. ‘The bird lives in the wild in Ontario, is not yet considered endangered, however it is likely to become endangered if steps are not taken to address factors threatening it. In Ontario, it is most widely distributed in the Carolinian zone in the south and southwest of the province, but has been detected throughout most of the province south of the 49th parallel. It winters in northwestern South America.’ (https://www.ontario.ca/page/chimney-swift)
Sault Naturalists President, Ron Prickett spoke to the estimated 200 people in attendance on Saturday night.
“They come through the Sault, and then they spread out and nest. If you see a chimney swift nest, we ask that you go to our Facebook Page and share the sighting with Algoma Swift Watch. Last Wednesday, the Chimney Swifts used the courthouse chimney for their evenings’ rest.” Algoma Swift Watch Facebook Page is here: (https://www.facebook.com/algomaswifts/?fref=ts)
Local musicians, Brandon Ladd and Tyler Marshall performed all evening with banjo, mandolin and guitar to an appreciative crowd.
Free refreshments and snacks courtesy of Shabby Motley, as well as organized games and activities for young people were part of the evening. Chimney Swift sightings may have been down on Saturday night, but that certainly didn’t translate to the mood of the crowd. Well done Algoma Swift Watch. Community came together, and that was a very good thing, with or without the guests of honour.
‘A bird best identified by silhouette, the smudge-gray Chimney Swift nimbly maneuvers over rooftops, fields, and rivers to catch insects. Its tiny body, curving wings, and stiff, shallow wingbeats give it a flight style as distinctive as its fluid, chattering call. This enigmatic little bird spends almost its entire life airborne. When it lands, it can’t perch—it clings to vertical walls inside chimneys or in hollow trees or caves. This species has suffered sharp declines as chimneys fall into disuse across the continent.’
Chimney Swifts are very small birds with slender bodies and very long, narrow, curved wings. They have round heads, short necks, and short, tapered tails. The wide bill is so short that it is hard to see.
Chimney Swifts nest in chimneys and on other vertical surfaces in dim, enclosed areas, including air vents, wells, hollow trees, and caves. They forage over urban and suburban areas, rivers, lakes, forests, and fields.
Stewardship programmes are underway through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. ‘Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find a Chimney swift nesting on your land, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.’ (https://www.ontario.ca/page/chimney-swift)
Algoma Swift Watch continues every evening during the spring migration. Watch for the signs.