2016 Fall Chimney Swift Counts

Chimney Swift Overhead - Photo Jim Mcculloch

On August 8, 2016, I set out to start my fourteenth annual fall Chimney Swift count as swifts select local chimneys for nightly roosting as they work their way to their winter homes in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and the northwest corner of Brazil. I had previously downloaded a Sun Rise/Set Table from the Astronomical Applications Department of the U. S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. I added an hour to the observatory’s military times to compensate for daylight-saving time. I had also purchased a composition book to record my observations. On August 8, the sun was to set at 20:38 (8:38 PM), so I arrived at my observation site at 20:22, then I sat in my car and labeled two columns of sequential lines in my composition book, one minute per line from 20:22-21:23.

I recorded no flying swifts until 20:29, then the first swift entered Edward Gym’s northeast chimney at 20:38. I recorded each observation and count on its appropriate minute-line in my composition book until the last swift entered the chimney at 21:07. I left at 21:12. All the seasons’ observations became recorded history after sixty pages of sixty nights of watching and recording.

I counted swifts at eight locations and sat in my car at only two sites. At all others, I sat in a canvas director’s chair. On three evenings, I ventured out of Delaware to count with fellow Columbus Audubon members at three of their sponsored counts: one at Westerville’s Masonic Lodge, and two at Dublin’s Sells Middle School.

Chimney Swift Study Skins and Map - Photo Dick Tuttle

Study skins and a map rest in the grass waiting to be pointed out to the curious public during swift counting.

When I count swifts, I use my state and federal permits that allow me to possess study skins from the Ohio Wesleyan Zoology Museum so I can show curious folks a preserved swift on its back, one on its belly, and a pair of wings and a tail, all safe in clear, plastic sandwich containers so they can be handled by anyone, including impressionable children. I also keep a map in a plastic sandwich bag that was downloaded from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that shows the seasonal homes claimed by swifts. During seven nights out of sixty, I used the study skins to educate 55 people of all ages during 13 inquisitive encounters.

Counting swifts descending into chimneys were not the only observations; bats, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, migrating Nighthawks, Crows, multiple species of flying ducks, and Canada Geese fly-bys added action to many counts. At 20:29 on September 29, a Cooper’s Hawk snagged its supper by swooping into a flock of circling swifts above Gray Chapel. Accipiters are fairly common at swift events but fortunately for the swifts, the hawks usually run out of sunlight needed for successful hunts. Pokemon Go players were also common throughout OWU’s campus and as cell-phone-zombies, they paid no attention to the zombie counting swifts.

Carlisle Elementary School with Chimney in Background

Carlisle Elementary School’s large driveway offers a great view of its chimney favored by swifts seeking a nightly roost site.

I was pleased and somewhat surprised to count 134 swifts on September 2 at the Carlisle Elementary School on the west side of Delaware. In 2015, swifts did not use the chimney since a lot of construction was going on. This year, the school’s chimney became quite active since a new heating/cooling system makes use of our earth’s soil temperature in order to cut down on our use of carbon fuels. I became a nightly fixture at the school since I could count from my car. I had planned to stay with counting at Gray Chapel but the area became an active construction site when the university began updating their sidewalk and the adjoining landscape on the north side of the chapel. Also, my right shoulder was scheduled for rotator cuff surgery on September 28, so car-friendly counts at Carlisle Elementary seemed like the best plan for 2016. During times in my car, I enjoyed listening to radio conversations on 89.7-FM WOSU radio, and I most enjoyed counts on Saturdays and Sundays when I was entertained by listening to the Bluegrass Ramble. Unfortunately, toward the end of the swift’s migration, the radio station shifted times for the bluegrass music and another part of my world faded away.

The 2016 fall swift count peaked on September 17 with 870 swifts, then a second, smaller peak always happens during the first week of October. I can only guess that the smaller peak consisted of young birds migrating for the first time, or maybe the second peak is made up of birds that have been stalled by feeding on abundant insect populations around Lake Erie and its surrounding wetlands.

I always observe two consecutive days of zero swifts before I announce the last day of the migration season. The last day for swifts this year was October 12, the mathematical average date between the earliest last date of October 6 in 2005, and the latest last date of October 18 in 2006.

I continue to wonder about spring migration. Milton and Mary Troutman’s Annotated List of the Birds of Ohio, printed in September 1968, lists Chimney Swift spring migration as April 10 to May 25. I have always claimed to be too busy with my conservation projects to count spring swifts, but maybe it’s time to select a chimney and see what spring migration is like.

Also, before there are migrations, there must be successful nesting seasons. Check out http://chimneyswifts.org/ for information and books to purchase. Paul and Georgean Kyle are America’s most effective conservationists when it comes to Chimney Swifts. They have recently tested eight-foot-tall swift towers and found that swifts will nest in them even though they are four feet shorter than standard towers. So far, migrating swifts have not roosted in the shorter versions, but the smaller towers can be easily installed around homes and throughout parks to make it possible for swift families to nest, one family per tower.

I submit my counts, N=60.

Edwards Gym, OWU, north chimney on east face, n=6
August 823 swifts20:38-21:07
August 933 swifts20:33-21:53
August 167 swifts20:21-20:41
August 2214 swifts20:25-20:42
August 248 swifts20:15-20:31
August 318 swifts20:05-20:16
Gray Chapel, OWU, west chimney on north face, n=13
August 1024 swifts20:37-20:53
August 1857 swifts20:26-20:43
August 2175 swifts20:19-20:46
August 23117 swifts20:12-20:38
August 2590 swifts20:12-20:36
August 26140 swifts20:12-20:30
August 2790 swifts20:02-20:32
August 2978 swifts20:17-20:28
August 30107 swifts19:51-20:26
September 1234 swifts20:10-20:25
September 652 swifts19:57-20:15
September 12179 swifts19:58-20:05
September 1443 swifts19:45-19:58
Blendon Lodge of Free Masonry, 130 South State St., Westerville, Ohio, a program sponsored by the Columbus Audubon Society, n=1
August 12494 swifts20:33-21:01
Sells Middle School, Dublin, n=2
August 131020 swifts19:56-20:50
September 91020 swifts19:42-20:22
Zion United Church of Christ, 51 West Central Ave., n=4
August 149 swifts20:13-20:36
August 179 swifts20:35-20:40
August 199 swifts20:25-20:40
August 2818 swifts20:01-20:24
Delaware County Bank, 41 North Sandusky St., n=1
August 15One swift20:29
Carlisle Elementary School, 746 West Central Ave., n=31
September 2134 swifts19:36-20:21
September 3246 swifts20:08-20:34
September 7310 swifts19:45-20:09
September 8217 swifts19:32-19:57
September 10153 swifts18:49-19:43, Birthday, 72 yrs.
September 13590 swifts19:44-20:10
September 15691 swifts19:20-20:03
September 16572 swifts19:21-20:00
September 17870 swifts19:37-20:08
September 18810 swifts19:25-19:57
September 19282 swifts19:45-19:56
September 20330 swifts19:15-19:59
September 21590 swifts19:24-19:55
September 23540 swifts19:30-19:58
September 24559 swifts19:36-19:50
September 25730 swifts19:15-19:58
September 29Swifts were present–did not count.
September 30206 swifts19:18-19:28
October 1299 swifts19:12-19:24
October 2278 swifts19:10-19:26
October 3348 swifts19:26-19:35
October 4297 swifts19:25-19:30
October 5360 swifts19:25-19:36
October 6305 swifts19:24-19:31
October 7334 swifts19:23-19:29
October 850 swifts19:16-19:24
October 926 swifts19:18-19:22
October 1033 swifts19:07-19:22
October 1258 swifts19:10-19:17
October 13zero swifts
October 14zero swifts
Downtown chimneys on West Winter Street, n=2
September 46 swifts20:01-20:19
September 512 swifts20:09-20:19

Conserve and count on!