Algoma Swift Watch 2017: Chimney Swifts Homeward Bound


Once again the Northern Hoot is thrilled for the opportunity to host the Algoma SwiftWatch live video cameras! Tune in all day long –especially in the morning and evening, to watch the spectacular display of thousands of chimney swifts that have made the Sault Ste. Marie Post Office chimney their home –most of the time. With the cap recently removed from the Sault Courthouse, some of these delightful avian wonders have relocated back to their old digs.

Dr. Jennie Pearce of Great Lakes Wildlife Research, is leading the research that is entering its second year of study. “Based on three years of data the chimney swifts should be here this weekend. The last three years they have arrived on the 6th or 7th of May,” she remarked.

Dr. Pearce explained that the hypothesis suggests cool and windy nights drive chimney swifts to the protection provided by the interior of warm chimneys and it is during those times when spectators often observe the unbelievable tornado of chimney swifts funneling into the depths of these older chimneys.

“People often ask me ‘when can I see thousands of chimney swifts’. Well, chimney swifts seem to come through in two waves- there’s a huge push of chimney swifts in mid-May and another group of chimney swifts in June. So based on the last few years the best viewing dates are around the 16th to 18th of May and around the first week of June,” remarked Dr. Pearce.

In addition to providing opportunity to learn more about the behaviour of chimney swifts, researchers hope that the installation of cameras in the Post Office chimney, raises awareness about the chimney swift and make the activity of the birds more accessible to Sault residents. “But our prime goal is to raise the profile of the chimney swift in the Sault with the hope that over the long-term this will help protect their habitat here,” commented Dr. Pearce, “

With only 11,829 chimney swifts suspected remaining in Canada, these little aerial insectivores have been classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. At one time their natural habitat was found in the hollows of trees. The persistence of deforestation in Canada has obliged the chimney swift to adapt to new habitats. Though the chimney swift is protected under the Act, the man-made habitats that they have been forced to evolve to, are not. However, because the birds are protected, once a chimney swift has chosen a chimney in which to roost or nest, it is illegal to destroy that habitat. Only when the birds have left for the winter is it legal to cap a chimney or destroy a roost.

With estimates showing between 2,000 -2,500 chimney swifts taking up residency in the Post Office and Courthouse chimneys, Sault Ste. Marie has earned the distinction of hosting the largest population of roosting chimney swifts in Canada. And Dr. Pearce thinks that’s a big plus for the community but underpins that losing either chimney would be catastrophic for our downy residents.

But loss of habitat is not the only threat to the survival of chimney swifts. Cameras provide researchers an opportunity to track predation by other birds on the chimney swift. “Beginning Monday we’ll have people at the chimneys looking at the level of predation by herring gulls on chimney swifts,” remarked Dr. Pearce.

Last year, researchers dedicated a lot of time to tracking the number of chimney swifts coming through the Sault. Dr. Pearce explained that during the second year of study researchers will be building on that information. “We’ll continue to count birds but we are spending more time trying to find out how they are using the roost. What they are doing when they are in the roost, are they resting or moving around all the time? When do they enter and exit the roost? And how much of the chimney are they using and why are they using the chimney? Is it for warmth? We also want to understand why these particular chimneys are so valuable to the chimney swifts- what are the characteristics of these chimneys that make them more suitable? Overall we are trying to protect the chimney swift for the long term.

This year researchers are operating without a grant and donations to keep the cameras in operation would be appreciated and can be arranged by emailing Dr. Pearce would also appreciate hearing about your chimney swift sightings around the community.

“We don’t know where all the chimney swifts might be nesting. So if people could keep an eye out in early June for chimney swifts that might be around large trees with hollows or chimneys that would be great. You’ll know they’re there if you watch the chimney or tree for forty-five minutes or so. You’ll see them diving in and shooting out.”


Check out the Algoma Swiftwatch cameras by clicking this link – or click the tab in the top right corner of our main menu bar! We’ll be keeping you posted as developments unfold. Happy birding!

(feature image: screenshot of last year’s Post Office chimney action)


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