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.
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.
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 8||23 swifts||20:38-21:07|
|August 9||33 swifts||20:33-21:53|
|August 16||7 swifts||20:21-20:41|
|August 22||14 swifts||20:25-20:42|
|August 24||8 swifts||20:15-20:31|
|August 31||8 swifts||20:05-20:16|
|Gray Chapel, OWU, west chimney on north face, n=13|
|August 10||24 swifts||20:37-20:53|
|August 18||57 swifts||20:26-20:43|
|August 21||75 swifts||20:19-20:46|
|August 23||117 swifts||20:12-20:38|
|August 25||90 swifts||20:12-20:36|
|August 26||140 swifts||20:12-20:30|
|August 27||90 swifts||20:02-20:32|
|August 29||78 swifts||20:17-20:28|
|August 30||107 swifts||19:51-20:26|
|September 1||234 swifts||20:10-20:25|
|September 6||52 swifts||19:57-20:15|
|September 12||179 swifts||19:58-20:05|
|September 14||43 swifts||19:45-19:58|
|Blendon Lodge of Free Masonry, 130 South State St., Westerville, Ohio, a program sponsored by the Columbus Audubon Society, n=1|
|August 12||494 swifts||20:33-21:01|
|Sells Middle School, Dublin, n=2|
|August 13||1020 swifts||19:56-20:50|
|September 9||1020 swifts||19:42-20:22|
|Zion United Church of Christ, 51 West Central Ave., n=4|
|August 14||9 swifts||20:13-20:36|
|August 17||9 swifts||20:35-20:40|
|August 19||9 swifts||20:25-20:40|
|August 28||18 swifts||20:01-20:24|
|Delaware County Bank, 41 North Sandusky St., n=1|
|August 15||One swift||20:29|
|Carlisle Elementary School, 746 West Central Ave., n=31|
|September 2||134 swifts||19:36-20:21|
|September 3||246 swifts||20:08-20:34|
|September 7||310 swifts||19:45-20:09|
|September 8||217 swifts||19:32-19:57|
|September 10||153 swifts||18:49-19:43, Birthday, 72 yrs.|
|September 13||590 swifts||19:44-20:10|
|September 15||691 swifts||19:20-20:03|
|September 16||572 swifts||19:21-20:00|
|September 17||870 swifts||19:37-20:08|
|September 18||810 swifts||19:25-19:57|
|September 19||282 swifts||19:45-19:56|
|September 20||330 swifts||19:15-19:59|
|September 21||590 swifts||19:24-19:55|
|September 23||540 swifts||19:30-19:58|
|September 24||559 swifts||19:36-19:50|
|September 25||730 swifts||19:15-19:58|
|September 29||Swifts were present–did not count.|
|September 30||206 swifts||19:18-19:28|
|October 1||299 swifts||19:12-19:24|
|October 2||278 swifts||19:10-19:26|
|October 3||348 swifts||19:26-19:35|
|October 4||297 swifts||19:25-19:30|
|October 5||360 swifts||19:25-19:36|
|October 6||305 swifts||19:24-19:31|
|October 7||334 swifts||19:23-19:29|
|October 8||50 swifts||19:16-19:24|
|October 9||26 swifts||19:18-19:22|
|October 10||33 swifts||19:07-19:22|
|October 12||58 swifts||19:10-19:17|
|October 13||zero swifts|
|October 14||zero swifts|
|Downtown chimneys on West Winter Street, n=2|
|September 4||6 swifts||20:01-20:19|
|September 5||12 swifts||20:09-20:19|
Conserve and count on!