It doesn’t just happen in Monroe … but we took a spontaneous trip to Monroe where it does happen. Vaux’s Swifts, up and down their migration corridor, appropriate chimneys for their nightly roosting ritual. In the Bay Area, the Healdsburg swift event was one of those things I’d always meant to attend but never did. So, when I saw mention of the swifts on our local birding list, I coaxed Hugh out to Monroe with the promise of a destination meal and some Zinfandel.

On the night before we arrived, according to the Monroe Swifts official count, 8,460 Vaux’s Swifts gathered in this chimney. Here’s why they love (or I assume they love) chimneys … from the Audubon of Portland website:

Vaux’s Swifts typically nest in old growth forests in hollow tree snags. Because of dwindling old-growth forest stands, Vaux’s Swifts have begun substituting chimneys for snags. Their nests are made of twigs that have been pasted together with saliva on the side of the snag or chimney. Adults access the nest by flying in and out of the top of the chimney. Swift nests disintegrate soon after they are abandoned and do not pose a fire hazard.

The swifts will sometimes enter the chimney before sunset, something I was hoping for … you know, for good photographic light which was a brilliant glow that evening. Alas, they waited until well after sunset and deep into dusk before ducking into their chimney for the night.

I shot a quick, casual video with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 — and did a quick, casual edit, not nearly fully exploiting the power of iMovie. But, wing blur notwithstanding, you at least get a sense of the lovely spectacle. On this night, 7,747 Vaux’s Swifts entered the roost while I photographed. I slowed the last part of the video so you can see the swifts actually backing into the chimney, tail first. When you watch them in real time it appears they’re diving in head first. The photos below also show the backup method employed by the birds.

The Monroe Swifts website and Vaux’s Happening site (Pilchuck Audubon) have great information on the local swifts here in Washington. In fact, at Vaux’s Happening, you can watch some footage from the chimney cam, of the swifts huddled inside their roost. There’s also information on how the Monroe swift watchers humanely deterred crows from catching the swifts as they emerged from the chimney each morning.

Images shot at ISO 4000 then at ISO 5000 and 6400 as darkness overtook.

Vaux's Swifts in Monroe Washington