In late summer and early fall, migrating Vaux's Swifts seek nighttime shelter in chimneys in the West, Chimney Swifts in the East. A gathering of swifts waits until dusk to descend into a chimney. The swifts enter in a continuous swirl. Each swift drops into the opening with wings raised, feet first, to hang upright for the night by its claws. To see a real swirl of swifts, visit Monroe, Washington, or Chapman School in Portland, Oregon, during the month of September. (Remember to wear a mask and social-distance yourself from other onlookers. Stay safe!)
Vaux’s Swift Roost in Monroe
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
[Sound track of the crowd at Monroe, Washington’s “Swift Night Out!”]
September brings one of nature’s great spectacles. But just what is it that could bring crowds of people out after sunset to stare at … a huge old chimney?
Listen now. Here they come. [Calls of Vaux’s Swifts swirling around a chimney] They’ve been out on the wing all day, catching insects. We’re witnessing a flock of Vaux’s Swifts entering their communal roost. Scores – perhaps hundreds, sometimes even thousands – of small, black birds whirl by, then form into a funnel cloud. Like film footage of a smoking chimney played in reverse, the Vaux’s Swifts begin to descend, first one, then a few more, then dozens, then hundreds in a continuous swirl. Each bird drops into the chimney with its wings held high, parachuting feet first, to catch the rough interior, where it will hang by its claws, upright for the night.
Whether Vaux’s Swifts in the West or Chimney Swifts east of the Rockies, these small, dark, streamlined birds are summer visitors from Central America. At first glance, they look something like small, dark swallows.
One of the largest known Vaux’s Swift roosts in the world – over 30,000 birds – can be seen in Portland, Oregon, in a chimney at Chapman Elementary School.
Learn where these important roost sites are located and see videos of “swirls of swifts” descending into chimneys at dusk, on our website, birdnote.org.
Vaux’ Swift flock returning to roost at Wagner Elementary School in Monroe WA, recorded by Martyn Stewart, Naturesound.org
Ambient recording of crowd by C. Peterson at Wagner Elementary
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org September 2016 / 2020 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# VASW-03-2009-09-08 (old: 090106VASW) VASW-03b