Chimney Swifts are birds that live right among us, but most never even notice them. In fact, their entire species has become so dependent on the chimneys that we built over the last couple of hundred years that “chimney” is part of their name. Now populations are rapidly declining as we tear down old chimneys, and cap newer ones. What’s the solution? Build more chimneys, or at least simulated ones called swift towers!
Chimney Tower at Wildcat Glades
Shortly after the Center opened in 2007, Chuck Grimes, a member of the local Chert Glade chapter of Missouri Master Naturalists, decided to build a swift tower near the Audubon Center as his capstone project.
The tower sat empty until 2014, when we learned how to lure a nesting pair to the tower by playing swift calls from a recording. The initial year did not produce a successful fledgling of swifts, but in the summer of 2015, the tower had another nest and 5 successful fledglings.
When you visit the Center, you will see the swift tower from the parking lot. During the nesting season, you can see the swift nest on the camera showing on the tv in the exhibit hall. These active birds spend most of their waking hours catching numerous flying insects in their wide mouths in flight, which is extremely helpful to humans. They even drink while flying, swooping low over water and dipping their tiny beaks in for a few droplets.
Nesting Habits of Chimney Swifts
Only one pair of birds will typically use a tower for nesting, but in the fall hundreds of swifts can roost in a single chimney as they gather into flocks and fatten up for the long trip back to South America. Every year in September, there is an event held nationwide called A Swift Night Out, where people can observe roosting sites as the birds come in for the evening and count them as they dive inside. This information helps scientists track swift numbers, which have been declining.
Chimney Swift Towers in the Community
Royal Heights Elementary in Joplin, Missouri built a swift tower in 2015 with the help of the Audubon Center, Sutherlands Lumber, and Joplin Fire Department. The tower was constructed outside of the school and students and staff personalized their tower and created a work of art!
If you’d like to build a swift tower, participate in A Swift Night Out, or just learn more about the “flying cigar”, contact the Audubon Center at 417-782-6287 or visit http://www.chimneyswifts.org/