Seeing Chimney Swifts in the air above Columbus in the summer is easy — just look up. Chimney Swifts are commonly seen all over the Columbus area. You will be looking for “flying cigars” with a fast but very fluttering flight. Chimney Swifts spend all of their waking hours on the wing, so don’t expect to see one perched anywhere. You also may hear the twittering or “chuttering” call of the swifts as they fly about overhead.
But most of us want to see Chimney Swifts going to roost in chimneys or other structures. Seeing tens, hundreds, or even thousands of swifts circling and then flowing into a nighttime roost truly is a spectacular sight. And, according to the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory Breeding Bird Database, over 5% of the world population of Chimney Swifts breed right here in Ohio, so seeing a roost is doubly impressive.
Swift Watching Hints
Here are a few hints to make your swift watching trip more productive:
- Show up at the swift roost location at least twenty minutes prior to sunset. (Check your newspaper’s weather page for the time for sunset.)
- Check the weather and adjust accordingly. Swifts still will roost on rainy nights, but you don’t want to be standing in a downpour to watch them. Light clouds are no problem, but a heavy overcast means that skies will be dark well before sunset, making swift watching more difficult.
- Keep in mind that mosquitoes also like to be out near sunset, so insect repellent may be in order.
Dominion Middle School at 330 E Dominion Blvd Columbus has a chimney that has hosted a few hundred swifts off and on in recent years. To reach the swift viewing location, go around to the back of the school and enter the driveway that leads to the dumpsters (driveway entrance off Sharon Ave, just north off Dominion Blvd.), where you will end up virtually at the foot of the chimney used by the swifts. Please note that there is limited parking here. We encourage you to park in the huge front lot of the school and then walk around to the back of the building.
The chimney at Bishop Watterson High School, 99 East Cooke Road in Columbus, has hosted up to a thousand swifts in some recent years. The best viewing is from directly across from the school on Foster Rd.
The most active swift roosts in the City of Delaware are two chimneys at the Ohio National Guard Armory at 79 West William Street (Route 36). Park in the lot at Tim Horton’s Restaurant, and give them some of your business. Watch from the tree lawn at Tim Horton’s. Swifts roost in both the south chimney and the north chimney, which really is an air intake vent. More than one thousand swifts roosted in the armory’s chimneys back in 2008. In 2007, the last swift roosted in Delaware on October 10.
One of the most reliable locations for viewing swifts is in Dublin behind Sells Middle School on Rt. 33/161 just west of Dublin Road. Families and birders bring their lounge chairs and wait in the fading sunlight for the swifts to begin their mostly counter-clockwise flight around the large brick chimney. Then as the light dims, the birds suddenly begin to disappear inside the school chimney. Sometimes it appears as if they are being sucked into the vast chimney of the 1919 school building. Highest counts at this site have over four thousand birds.
Another good spot is the Galena Village Hall (the old United Methodist Church), located at 109 Harrison Street in Galena. The building has a large, two-story chimney that measures 48″ x 78″ on the outside and is no longer used for the furnace.
The J W Reason Elementary School, located at 4790 Cemetery Road in Hilliard (west of the Dairy Queen), was found to have good numbers of swifts a few years ago.
Swifts also roosted at the Avery Lodge F&AM 493 at 3980 Main Street, Hilliard. Pull into the alley just before Hilliard Cleaners and park and walk to the big open grassy area behind the lodge for a good view of the chimney. Although this chimney has a “roof” over it, the swifts still use it, and in the process prove just how agile they are.
The Blendon #339 Masonic Lodge, located at 130 South State Street in Westervile, has hosted hundreds of swifts yearly. This spot is just south of the Westerville Library, which in turn is only a couple of very short blocks from uptown Westerville. There’s plenty of free public parking in the uptown area.
Finding Other Locations
There are many other places to watch staging swifts. Some reliable sites are in old buildings, schools, churches and warehouses in downtown Columbus and downtown Westerville.
When you find a good spot in central Ohio, please email Darlene Sillick with your sightings. Include the address of the building where you see the birds entering, note whether it is public or private property, and suggest a viewing location. See if you can make a count of the birds entering the chimney and the time they start and finish. The sites that you suggest will be added to this page so that others can share!