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Birders invite the public to count chimney swifts

Greg Munson is planning a Swift Sit count at the Boys Girls Club building in Rochester.




If you go

What: See chimney swifts and help count them with naturalists and local and state Audubon Society members.

Where: Parking lot of the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester, 1026 E. Center St.

When: Tonight through Monday, beginning between 7:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. It usually takes about 25 minutes to watch the birds dive into the chimney.

For more information about chimney swifts and to see videos of the birds diving into their roost locations for the night, check out these websites:

• The Cornell Lab of Ornithology:  http://tinyurl.com/3nn783w

• YouTube video: http://tinyurl.com/3p9hguv

• YouTube of Vaux's swifts (similar to chimney swift) roosting in Portland, Ore.: http://tinyurl.com/67rvwa




In an effort to raise awareness and appreciation for a little bird that migrates from Peru to Rochester each summer, naturalist Greg Munson and members of the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society are inviting the public to join them this week to count chimney swifts.

The event is called a "Swift Sit." Munson, the former director of Quarry Hill Nature Center, and three Audubon birders will be in the parking lot of the Boys & Girls Club (the old Holmes Elementary School in Rochester) each evening this week and through Monday of next week. They will be counting swifts and answering questions people might have about them.

As their name implies, chimney swifts roost in chimneys — typically large ones on old commercial/industrial buildings, such as the ones at the Boys & Girls Club and Kellogg Middle School.

Audubon Minnesota also is having a Swift Sit this week, asking volunteers to count swifts at any roosting site they know of in the state. The birds are in decline in Canada and the United States — down more than 50 percent during the last 40 years, according to Audubon Minnesota.

Contrary to what many people first think about the birds, they do not harm or cause problems inside chimneys. In fact, chimney swifts are valued for their voracious appetites for all kinds of small insects. A single swift can consume up to 3,000 insects in a day, Munson said.

Before European settlement of North America, the birds probably roosted in caves and hollow trees. They are said to be the fastest flying group of birds on Earth, on the wing all day, and never stopping until they drop into their favorite chimney to cling to its inside walls for the night.

In past years, Munson has counted more than 1,000 swifts diving into the chimney at Kellogg, and he used to count 400 to 500 dropping into the chimney at the Boys & Girls Club building. However, this summer, he counted about 400 at Kellogg and about 250 at the Boys & Girls Club.

He said the birds are in decline, primarily because many old industrial chimneys are being taken down, and smaller residential chimneys — which single pairs of swifts nest in — are being capped or converted to natural gas.


"They are fascinating birds," Munson said, adding that people should care about them because they are part of our ecosystem. "And if we let a species in it disappear, as in extinction, then we're not doing our system justice."


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