NEW GLASGOW – You can hear the chatter of chimney swifts as they circle Temperance Street school.
The birds that spend their entire day flying flit around the school and then finally swoop into the chimney, sometimes hundreds within the span of just a few minutes.
“It’s amazing to watch. They make quite a little chatter. Even if they have been high in the air, you can hear them,” says local bird enthusiast Ken McKenna.
He has witnessed the night-roosting dozens of times in the summers in front of the New Glasgow school where the birds have roosted at night for portions of the summer for as long as he can remember.
“They’re very unique and we’re lucky that we have a good colony here,” he said.
As the century-old school closes, he and other bird enthusiasts are concerned about this population of migrating birds who have come to depend on the chimney.
With the exchange of ownership from the school board to the Town of New Glasgow, Maritimes SwiftWatch is hoping to work with the new owners to maintain the chimney and promote the presence of this endangered species to both locals and visitors.
Bird Studies Canada and the Pictou County Naturalist Society are inviting the public to learn more about chimney swifts by attending a talk at the New Glasgow Public Library today at 7 p.m. followed by a viewing of the swift spectacle at Temperance Street Elementary School at approximately 8:30 p.m.
“The New Glasgow roost is one of the largest in Nova Scotia so preserving this chimney is very important to Nova Scotia’s population of swifts,” Holly Lightfoot, Conservation Program co-ordinator for Bird Studies Canada said. “We would like to work with the new owners to make sure that the chimney is maintained in a manner that is as swift friendly as possible.”
Chimney swifts arrived at Temperance Street Elementary School early this spring and McKenna first saw them on May 8. He said the birds usually migrate down to Peru and return from South America to special “roost” chimneys across the province, including the chimney at Temperance Street. In the past there have been as many as 700 birds counted at the site. This year he’s personally counted more than 400 at one time. Sunday night, he counted 198.
By late June, swift pairs disperse to find individual nest chimneys to breed but the birds return to their roost chimney in late July with their young in tow before leaving the province by late August.
Now provincially endangered, chimney swifts were once common in the Maritimes. However, the Canadian population has declined by 95 per cent in the past four decades, for reasons not fully understood.
McKenna said capping of chimneys is one reason why the birds may find it harder to find places to roost.
While obviously the birds didn’t always have chimneys to roost in, in the past more old trees were left in the woods which became hollow and the birds could use.
Led by Bird Studies Canada, Maritimes SwiftWatch is a citizen-scientist monitoring and conservation program that brings together volunteers and community groups to act as stewards for chimney swifts and their habitat.
Chimney Swift Facts
• The chimney swifts is known as an aerial insectivore. They eat insects which they catch in the air.
• The birds migrate each year between Canada and South America around the Amazon basin.
• From the time they leave their roost in the morning until they land at night, they don’t land at all except when they’re nesting.
• 461 is the peak number recorded this year, but there have been as many as 700 in the past.
• The birds go into the chimney at dusk. Right now that’s been happening around 8:30 p.m.