15 December 2011

Perspective on Chimney Swift Season 2011

Chimney Swifts. December 2011. Meadowlark 40(10): 4-6. Newsletter of the Audubon Society of Omaha.

Chimney Swifts were around Omaha before the city was just a few shacks and fields west of the Missouri River in the mid-1850s. As the settlement grew, buildings of many sorts were placed upon the land, and the small, darting black bug eaters of the sky took advantage of the chimneys which were an essential construct for each new building.

More was better. There were a myriad of places for the swifts to rest during the breeding season and roost during migrations. Suitable places were used again and again as havens by so many birdly generations.

For the swifts, every year of their presence locally is affected by actions beyond their influence. Bug eaters require a proper chimney, with the extent of suitable places constantly changing, often dramatically, as indicated by the 2011 season.

After arriving in mid-April — providing an exciting notice of spring — swifts were typically seen in the urban skies of the metropolis. Thenceforth they could be readily appreciated, with records of their mighty presence noted during bird surveys of city sites.

As summer waned, groups gathered at their typical roosts in larger chimneys, with prominent eastern Omaha locales known to some extent after ten years of swifting.

Salvation Army Center Oct. 13, 2011

The peak of the season was October 9 and 10 when three roosts — within a mile radius — swarmed with activity. Near 44th and Izard Streets, there were 925 the first evening, 1025 the next morning at the 9.5x9.5 brick chimney at Duchesne, and then the phantasmagoria of circa 1400 at the Blackstone District church the second evening. A second visit to the latter site provided the same dynamo of a display two days later. This is the largest known congregation of swifts ever recorded in Nebraska, based upon 1,835 known records which date to 1899 in Omaha.

A new roost location was found near the end of the season when about 90 swifts dived into the multistory, towering chimney at the Salvation Army facility west of Bemis Park. There was another roost across Cuming Street.

A tragedy of the year occurred in the autumn when an important chimney roost (about 300 used the roost in early October 2009) was blocked. The Dundee Presbyterian Church installed new heating equipment, a vent was placed within the chimney and its entrance was capped. Officials of the church were indifferent to the impact when informed.

At Leavenworth Street and St. Mary’s Avenue, renovation of the Canterbury apartment buildings meant the loss of several chimneys as they were obliterated with the installation of a new roof. Another large chimney was capped when a new vent was installed.

These two instances are symptomatic of the regular, ongoing decline in the extent of chimneys suitable as old structures are modified or razed. There is no new swift habitat being constructed. The decline hampers the lives of the city’s swifts and the visiting migratory flocks.

Swifts were last seen on the evening of October 15 near 49th Avenue and Dodge Street, though the eventual roost for the four birds could not be determined as the birds flew away into the evening’s gloom.

The latest date for swifts in the metro area, based upon 1,221 known records for Douglas and Sarpy Counties, is October 21, 2009 when nine were noted early in the morning near Criss Library on the UNO campus.