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.
- For my friends in Northern California: Healdsburg Swifts
- In Los Angeles: Downtown LA Swifts
- In Portland, OR: Chapman Elementary Swifts
Images shot at ISO 4000 then at ISO 5000 and 6400 as darkness overtook.
Nice shooting. I would like to see that someday. It looked like there was a lot of flying around the chimney as the birds flew into the top.
Glenn, I recently read that there’s a chimney in San Rafael, not too far from SF, but I believe it has fewer swifts than the one in Healdsburg: https://www.ohloneaudubon.org/index.php/upcoming-events/calendar/view/200/31
What an amazing sight. Great video too.
🙂 Thank you kindly. I’d like to watch it again when they’re in even more of a tornado swirl.
Ingrid, the video is wonderful, I love how it shows the swifts going into the chimney and the large numbers of them! Wow, I can see why you wanted to make a trip to Monroe.
Amazing, Ingrid. I had no idea they did this. Neat post (and video) and quite the education for me.
Ron and Mia, if you get a chance to look at the videos from the chimney cams, they show much more detail in how the swifts roost inside the chimney, and then emerge again in the morning. It’s miraculous, if you ask me. Yet another miraculous event in nature.
Beautiful video! I used to watch them go into the chimney across the street. At first there were only 4 then one evening 10 swooped down the chimney. What a sight! The new homeowner closed off the chimney.
Does anyone know how to build a faux chimney for these Vaux Swifts? My brother back in Wisconsin is building one for regular swifts but I don’t know if the nesting habits are the same.