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Urban Wildlife

Swift Night Out

By September 14, 2011October 12th, 20142 Comments

Monroe’s Vaux’s Swifts

Read Urban Species Profile:: Swifts for detailed information about the Vaux’s Swifts. 

Twice a year Vaux’s Swifts roost in the chimney at Frank Wagner Elementary School in Monroe, Washington. Once a year the school hosts ‘Swift Night Out’ where people come visit from all over the state, and even country to watch the swifts descend at dusk into the school’s chimney. There are educational booths from groups like local Audubon chapters and there is a swift expert who gives a talk. The 4’x4′ chimney is no longer used to heat the school and is now left to the swifts. It was recently retrofitted to make it earthquake safe for the school and their bird visitors. Seattle Audubon helped the school receive a grant which is used to bring in a special program to educate the students about the swifts. Thanks to the swifts the kids learn about geography, math, biology and science from first hand experience.

The fall migration is usually larger because the young swifts are now joining their parents on their return migration. The chimney in Monroe is one of the largest roost sites in the state and has counted as many as 26,000 in a single night which was recorded in 2010. The 2011 numbers have been considerably lower, only one day this fall has even hit 4,000. The reasons for this are unknown, it could be the influence of the warmer weather later in the year causing the swifts to not hurry their migration. It could also be that more swifts are roosting in other area chimneys in greater numbers than before.

The swifts start to show up in the area an hour or so before they start to roost and spend their time flying around the school. Soon more and more arrive and at dusk they start to fly in a large circle around the chimney before suddenly funneling into the narrow chimney. As they filter in they turn around and enter the chimney tail first making an interesting spectacle. Once inside they overlap each other for warmth in shingle-style. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hosts a webcam of the top of the chimney and also the inside, although it doesn’t always work.

It’s an amazing site to see and although Swift Night Out only occurs one night a year, the swifts roost in the chimney at Frank Wagner Elementary School for about a month. Several hundred visitors set up chairs and blankets to watch the swifts and many cheered as the last of the birds descended into the chimney.

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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist, writer and photographer based in Seattle. She is the author of NATURE OBSCURA: A City’s Hidden Natural World from Mountaineers Books. She writes freelance articles about natural history and has bylines in Crosscut, Popular Science, National Wildlife Magazine and others. On the side she writes fiction. Kelly holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington.


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