Chimney Swifts come in to roost on campus


Last night I had the rare opportunity to watch Chimney Swifts come in to their evening roost. They’ve provided me with another wildlife mystery, however. Their roost is somewhere on top of a high rise dormitory on the OSU campus, and there ain’t no chimneys up there.

Chimney Swifts are fascinating creatures. Most closely related to hummingbirds, swifts may spend more time on the wing than any other birds. I’ve read that swifts eat, drink, mate, and even sleep on the wing. If that last one is true, then they must get a lot out of little power naps!


Chimney Swift portrait, Powdermill Nature Reserve

Most folks are familiar with swifts – they are pretty conspicuous – but they’re probably often mistaken for swallows or bats. Some folks get the chance to experience swifts up close and personal: occasionally, babies will fall from their chimney nests and be found clinging to the side of a homeowner’s fireplace. But most of us know them simply as twittering little black boomerangs strung through cigars that can do about Mach 3 in a straightaway.

They fly more slowly when coming to roost. Last night right at 9 pm when the full, red moon had just risen in the east, I noticed our resident flock of about 50 swifts circling and twittering over the roof of Kerr Hall. I had seen them do this before, so I figured they must be roosting somewhere on the roof of that building. The roof, however, is flat, and there are no chimneys.

As the minutes passed and the birds continued circling, the little black shapes became harder to discern against the darkening sky. The first stars blinked on around 9:10. Finally, I thought I had an idea where the birds were going, so I posted myself at the best vantage I could find. There! One at a time, birds were dropping from the wheeling flock, holding their stiff wings aloft, and floating like butterflies in an irregular path to their roost. By 9:16, the twittering fell silent as the last swift wafted down into the roost.

My next assignment? Convince the maintenance crew of a college dormitory to let me climb out onto the roof of their 11-story building and try to figure out where these little guys are roosting.

For more information about swifts, check here.

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5 Responses to Chimney Swifts come in to roost on campus

  1. allen says:

    OK, so where/ on what surface were they nesting?

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    • Not nesting, roosting. This appeared to be some kind of post-breeding roost. Near as I could tell, the birds were roosting inside a galvanized ventilation pipe of about 1.5 – 2′ in diameter.

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  2. Heather says:

    I found your post because I think we have one or more nests in our chimney here in Newberg Oregon. Everything I am reading is consistent with what we are seeing and I might link to you…

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    • This comment was a long time ago but wondering if you ever found out? My daughter and I watched a swarm go into the chimney at a Newberg church this last spring/summer. Thought bats at the time, then remembered Swifts. Thanks 🙂

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  3. CryTears says:

    We’ve had a flock of about 100 or more of these black “Swallows” coming here for more than 15 years.
    We live atop a hill in Eagle Creek, Oregon, and our tall chimney to our basement fireplace makes a perfect roost for them.
    Every evening right after sunset, they whirl around making a “black tornado” above the chimney, then one by one they drop down.
    Within 20-30 mins the “grand show” is over.
    In the fall, before we start any fires, we clean it out as we always find a few dead birds.
    We have enjoyed these birds every summer and look forward to the “show” they put on for us the short time they’re here each year.
    But this year was very different and we had very few birds in this flock.
    I’d say there was less than half the birds we usually have in this flock.
    Even the other wild birds we feed haven’t been around.
    Perhaps is weather related as this summer brought the Pacific North West area very unusual weather.

    We’ve gone from unseasonable record breaking heat to record breaking cold and near freezing temps.
    Snow level down very low with ski lifts running as if was fall.
    Our kids skied year round up at Timberline Lodge, but never on fresh fallen snow like this year.
    Perhaps this is why this years flock of swallows was so small.
    What ever the reason, I’m hoping they continue to come roost in our chimney.
    And if anyone has an answer or comment for me, I’m all ears!
    I never want to stop learning…so thanks for reading my comment here.

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