Chimney Swift - Photo Andy Reago and Chrissy McLarren

For the nineteenth consecutive year, I counted migrating Chimney Swifts as I watched seven chimneys at six locations inside the city of Delaware and one additional chimney in Galena, Ohio. Swifts dropped in only six of the eight chimneys as they sought safe vertical walls with rough surfaces to cling to for the night. The small grasping birds use their small clawed feet and spine-tipped tail feathers to cling to mortar and bricks in a vertical position to compensate for not being able to perch in horizontal positions like other birds. Of course, hundreds of years ago, their feathered ancestors used to roost in hollow trees before such trees were harvested for firewood by waves of settlers.

This swift is using its clawed feet and spine-tipped tail feathers to safely cling to the wooden wall.

One of the best examples was what John James Audubon calculated and recorded in the early 1800’s. Audubon and a friend had roped their way up a dead sycamore tree to a hollow limb nearly forty feet above the ground. There, they peered into the hollow tree but failed to see any roosting swifts in the dark cavity. So, Audubon hired a man to chop a hole in the base of the tree during daylight hours when no swifts were trying to roost. Then, during evening hours, Audubon and his friend returned with lanterns to light up the tree’s cavity after they entered the tree at its base. The two men went about harvesting 115 unlucky swifts.

Once outside the roost, Audubon placed the unfortunate swifts side-by-side on the ground like they had been found on the inside walls of their roost. He measured the volume of birds and found that 32 covered one square foot of roosting space.

Audubon used his Paris education and went about calculating the inside surface area of the sycamore in square feet, and after applying his knowledge of math, found that the tree had been used by 9,000 swifts. Wow!

Looking up into a Sycamore Tree like the one that John James Audubon saw.

After their study, Audubon covered the hole at the bottom of the tree so roosting swifts could remain safe.

I would like to add that isolated sycamore trees make excellent roosts and nesting sites since climbing predators such as “Ricky Raccoon” find the smooth white bark to be too slippery for them to climb.

Once morning temperatures promise flying insects, roosting swifts emerge from their chimneys to fly and hunt their way for another hundred or so miles to claim another chimney at dusk. In other words, swifts hopscotch their way through a series of nightspots on their way to their winter homes in Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, and Brazil’s northwest corner.

Days before my count begins, I download a sunrise/sunset chart from the Internet. Multiple sites are available, and once I type in my zip code, an accurate timetable becomes available for downloading. Since I have multiple calendars from charitable organizations that I donate to, I select a calendar and use red ink to list each day’s sunset time in each day-block from August through October. I also tape a paper copy of the needed sunset times in my composition book that becomes my data book.

Every year, I use a college ruled, 100 sheet, Composition book for my data book. Each page has 29 lines, and I use a ruler and pen to divide each page into three columns.

Swift in flight

Once I arrive on site one-half hour before sunset, I write counted minutes on each line in the data book and draw a block around the minute for sunset. At the top of the page, I write the day of the week and date, the temperature listed on my car’s dashboard, sky and wind conditions, and of course, the location.I began my yearly count on August 3, 2021 by counting swifts at Edwards Gym on the Ohio Wesleyan campus. Only 17 swifts entered the chimney between 8:59 and 9:11 PM. Of course, I recorded their times as 20:59 and 21:11 to satisfy my mind. I counted the swifts at the Gym’s chimney for 56 of the 74 nights that made up my 2021 season’s count. The highest count of 386 swifts at the Gym took place on September 30, and the last count with swifts took place on October 15. Once a zero count takes place, as it did on October 16, I always count in downtown Delaware the next night and sit near Pat’s Records across from Bun’s Restaurant so I can detect any swifts that are still flying above the city. After seeing no swifts on October 17, I then declared the 15th as the last day of swifts.

The Gym had its cast of furred characters, as did all of the swift locations. The resident groundhog was in and out of its dens on 12 nights, and flying bats were counted on nine nights. A rabbit entertained on two nights, and one night became intriguing because the groundhog was grazing on mowed grass within three feet of the rabbit. The rabbit’s presence remains a mystery since it was totally exposed while being where there are no woody plants to help hide Hoppy behind the Branch Rickey Arena.

My second count night took place on August 4 at the Zion United Church of Christ. I counted every other night until two nights of no swifts meant that the chimney “had died.” When swifts refuse to enter a chimney, I declare the chimney “dead.” Of course, chimneys are chimneys, and when they are used as chimneys, they can discourage swifts with hot or cold air currents, etc. No swifts were counted on August 26 and 30. The highest count took place on August 12 when 547 swifts entered the church’s chimney. I recorded bats on nine of the 12 nights, a rabbit on one night, and a skunk showed up on October 26.

The Carlisle Elementary School’s chimney was still dead on August 7, the only day that I checked it. It had died in 2019 and during previous years, it had been one of my favorite chimneys.

I checked Gray Chapel on the OWU campus only once. On August 10, only one swift entered the chapel’s chimney. I believe a strong light that shines on the south face of the chapel may interfere with a swift’s ability to see into a dark chimney.

On September 1, I traveled to Galena to watch the chimney at the Galena Town Hall that used to be a church. There, I met a family of four from Upper Arlington that had just dined in a local restaurant and had planned to watch swifts enter the hall’s chimney. They were not disappointed as 1339 swifts put on a classic show of circling and entering the chimney to resemble a tornado’s funnel cloud. I enjoyed my visit and also enjoyed the knowledge that the swifts were enhancing local businesses.

On September 5, I had a new experience of counting two chimneys on the same building during similar time frames. Two people told me that they had watched swifts entering both chimneys as they walked to their cars parked in the city parking lot along the south side of the building that is located along East Winter Street. I sat in my director’s chair in the parking lot and was entertained as I watched the twin chimneys share 51 swifts for the night.

On September 8, I saw no swifts entering the chimney at the First Commonwealth Bank. I returned for the last watch of the season on October 17 to confirm that there were no swifts flying over downtown Delaware.

In recent years, I have not seen evidence of “fecal rain,” an environmental interpretation term for excrement discharged by swifts as they prepare to enter their roost for the night. Usually, if I am outside my car, I can hear fecal rain hit the ground, or I see evidence of it on my car, and sometimes the rain hits me, and that’s why I always wear a hat when I count. The lack of fecal rain reminds me that the birds are having a difficult time coping with a shortage of insects resulting from climate change.

Also, one mystery remains. Usually, the last days of counting in October sees a gradual decline in the number of swifts entering chimneys until less than ten per night enter for the last three to five nights. This year, 145, 147 and 112 swifts entered during the last three nights, and I expected the positive count to continue, but it didn’t. I’m still thinking about this.

I also have negative counts to report. I hate loud vehicles, or the drivers that make their vehicles loud by accelerating unnecessarily. Whenever I am irritated by a loud vehicle, I write “LV” in my data book. During 32 of 74 evenings counting peaceful birds, I recorded 71 episodes of loud vehicles.

I also recorded positive counts of ducks that flew within range of my sight as most fly northeast over Delaware to the Olentangy River or streams and ponds that are part of the Delaware community. I counted 606 ducks from 105 flocks. Flocks of four ducks made up the most common size represented by 21 flocks. Twenty-four ducks made up the largest flock. Also, four flocks of geese added 21 to the sky over Delaware.

During the last two weeks of counting, I spent 11 days outside my car to better enjoy the evenings while trying to spot OWU’s groundhog. Another attraction that developed when outside my car was that I could hear the chatter from high-flying swifts. Sometimes, I could hear them, but I had a hard time seeing them since they were so high in the sky.

As usual, it was a rewarding year of counting. Check out Chimney Swifts on the Internet and Conserve on!

Chimney Swift Fall Migration Counts, N=74

When I record times, I prefer military time so morning and afternoon times are never confused. Simply subtract 12 from times greater than 12:00 to return afternoon times to standard time.

For data listed below, and for dates where swifts entered their chimney, earliest entry times are listed in the next to last column. Times of last entries make up the last column.

Edwards Gym, OWU, North Chimney on East Face, n=56
August 317 swifts20:59 – 21:11
August 527 swifts20:36 – 21:06
August 828 swifts20:43 – 21:03
August 1116 swifts20:48 – 20:52
August 1320 swifts20:38 – 20:45
August 1530 swifts20:39 – 20:49
August 1724 swifts20:33 – 20:44
August 1910 swifts20:12 – 20:46
August 2150 swifts20:18 – 20:43
August 2359 swifts20:19 – 20:37
August 2557 swifts20:13 – 20:34
August 2750 swifts20:19 – 20:30
August 2845 swifts20:24 – 20:30
August 2957 swifts20:13 – 20:27
August 3140 swifts19:51 – 20:20
September 242 swifts20:10 – 20:22
September 368 swifts20:09 – 20:20
September 4112 swifts19:57 – 20:12
September 659 swifts20:05 – 20:20
September 753 swifts19:57 – 20:09
September 930 swifts19:51 – 20:0
September 1029 swifts (77 today)19:53 – 20:10
September 11, Prospect High School Alumni Banquet
September 1257 swifts19:55 – 20:04
September 1350 swifts19:52 – 20:04
September 1469 swifts19:52 – 20:04
September 15145 swifts19:51 – 20:06
September 1693 swifts19:55 – 20:02
September 17107 swifts19:31 – 20:06
September 1885 swifts19:48 – 20:02
September 19135 swifts19:45 – 19:57
September 20181 swifts19:34 – 19:56
September 21191 swifts19:30 – 19:44
September 22146 swifts19:21 – 19:37
September 2330 swifts19:17 – 19:34
September 2467 swifts19:40 – 19:47
September 25 115 swifts19:30 – 19:43
September 26139 swifts19:23 – 19:43
September 27153 swifts19:28 – 19:40
September 28282 swifts19:32 – 19:45
September 29315 swifts19:25 – 19:42
September 30386 swifts18:53 – 19:38
October 1138 swifts19:26 – 19:38
October 2124 swifts19:22 – 19:30
October 393 swifts19:21 – 19:31
October 490 swifts19:24 – 19:31
October 5118 swifts19:23 – 19:31
October 6228 swifts19:18 – 19:27
October 7, Tolles Career Center Committee Meeting
October 8264 swifts19:16 – 19:25
October 975 swifts19:15 – 19:23
October 10107 swifts19:14 – 19:21
October 11140 swifts19:11 – 19:18
October 12220 swifts19:10 – 19:17
October 13145 swifts19:07 – 19:17
October 14147 swifts19:07 – 19:14
October 15112 swifts19:04 – 19:13
October 16zero swifts Watched 18:21 – 19:15
Zion United Church of Christ, 51 West Central Ave., n=12
August 4443 swifts20:37 – 21:12
August 6470 swifts20:29 – 21:07
August 9518 swifts20:22 – 21:01
August 12547 swifts20:11 – 20:42
August 14473 swifts20:16 – 20:56
August 16447 swifts20:11 – 20:50
August 18314 swifts20:22 – 20:51
August 20388 swifts20:30 – 20:50
August 2296 swifts20:33 – 20:48
August 24 4 swifts20:33 – 20:43
August 26zero swiftswatched 19:45 – 20:41
August 30Zero swiftswatched 19:38 – 20:34
Carlisle Elementary School, 746 West Central Ave. n=1
August 7Zero swiftswatched 20:17 – 21:07
Gray Chapel, OWU, West chimney on North face, n=1
August 10one swift,21:53
Galena Village Hall, 109 Harrison St., n=1
September 11,339 swifts20:00 – 20:25
Two chimneys along East Winter St., n=1
September 5, East Chimney27 swifts20:13 – 20:16
    West Chimney24 swifts20:06 – 20:15
First Commonwealth Bank, 41 North Sandusky St., n=2
September 8Zero swiftswatched 19:25 – 20:20
October 17Zero Swiftswatched 18:20 – 19:14

That’s it!