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Visual concert in the night sky to happen soon

Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group
You are invited to a free evening concert in nature. The performers are the Chimney Swifts, and they will be chittering and twittering above chimneys in the evening sky before they roost for the night this fall. These birds are getting ready to migrate south, all the way to the Amazon, and when they do they become communal. This is where the show begins. Some sites may consist of a half dozen swifts or so, but the larger sites can host hundreds or even thousands of swifts.

“Volunteers all over the state of Wisconsin have counted thousands and thousands of swifts roosting in chimneys over the past decade,” said Nancy Nabak, chair of the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group. “It’s fascinating to watch, count and listen to swifts as they circle and whirl above chimneys before they roost for the night – it’s a visual sky concert.”


The statewide group is asking bird watchers and local community members to help count swifts entering chimneys at dusk from mid-August through September, depending on where you are in the state. This is part of a continent-wide program called Swift Night Out held to raise awareness about this declining species.

Nabak said that although volunteers have counted large numbers of swifts since the program began, they’ve also documented the loss of many chimneys due to demolition or capping, resulting in a loss of habitat for this federally protected bird. This is a trend that the group hopes to bring to the forefront, finding ways to protect existing chimneys.

Last year, the group created a partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to preserve swift chimneys in need of repair through a cost-share program. The Vernon County Historical Society was able to successfully restore a chimney at the Vernon County Historical Museum in Viroqua, which hosts hundreds of swifts.

If you know of a chimney that needs repair and currently hosts swifts, please contact the working group at

How can you help? Anyone can go out just prior to dusk and watch swifts “drop” into chimneys as they roost for the night. All you have to do is count birds as they enter. Please note the condition of the chimney you are monitoring as well.

Chimney Swifts nest in eastern North America in the summer and migrate to South America in the fall. Before European settlement, the birds nested in large hollow trees in old-growth forests. As these forests disappeared, the birds discovered brick chimneys as a replacement. Brick chimneys work well for the birds because they provide enclosed areas with a rough, vertical surface the birds can cling to, much like a hollow tree. Unlike most birds, Chimney Swifts do not perch on branches but use the sharp nails on their tiny feet to cling to the sides of their roost.

According to the latest North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Chimney Swift population has declined 72% in the last 50 years. Specific reasons for this loss are unknown, but pesticides, climate change and habitat loss all play a role.

Tips on how and where to look for Chimney Swifts

Identification: Chimney Swifts have slender bodies with long, curved wings and short, stubby tails (they look like a flying cigar or boomerang). They fly rapidly with nearly constant wingbeats, often twisting from side to side. They also give a distinctive, high chittering call while in flight. They are the only bird that will drop into chimneys to roost for the night.
     Because they congregate in communal roosts before migrating in late summer/fall, it's easy to count them. Here's how to count:
     -- Look for tall brick chimneys that are uncapped.
     -- Watch to see where swifts are feeding and congregating.
    --  Pick a night to monitor from mid- August to September.
     -- Observe the roost starting about 20 minutes before sunset until 10 minutes after the last swift enters the chimney.
    --  Count (or estimate) the number of swifts as they enter the chimney. It’s useful to count in groups of 5 or 10 when they enter quickly in large numbers.
     -- Enter your data on eBird if possible and add #swiftwi in the species comment section. This helps researchers quickly track swift activity in Wisconsin.

 For more information go to


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Why Does Counting Swifts Matter? What does it Mean to My Community?

The Chimney Swift is a great enhancer to and indicator of a sustainable community. If you think of the key elements of sustainability, you think of the 3 “E’s” – Economy, Environment, and social Equity/Enjoyment.


Chimney Swifts gathering and dropping into a chimney in the evening to roost for the night is a GREAT tourist attraction.

Many communities make events out of this phenomenon and attract out of town visitors to witness this natural event. Main Street programs, Chambers of Commerce, and Visitor and Convention Bureaus capitalize on this natural event to bring tourists into their community.

Birding is a multi-billion-dollar industry and Wisconsin is rated as the second highest birding state in the country. These visitors spend their dollars on local lodging, dining and other establishments while enjoying these and other birds.


Having a healthy swift population indicates that you have healthy and sustainable habitat and food sources in your community.

Swifts are an aerial insectivore which means they dine on bugs in flight. They control a large number of insects/pests for free! Their diet includes flies, mosquitoes, flying ants, beetles, wasps, and airborne spiders.

Local bird watching/swift monitoring is also a great silent sport, which means it has a small “environmental footprint.”


Bird song and viewing makes us variously excited, relaxed, and happy. It enhances our quality of life.

More and more, people are tuning in to the importance of nature, getting outside, and enjoying bird watching. Swifts are commonly found in urban, downtown areas where walking is the only transportation needed. No equipment is necessary to watch swifts, either. Everyone can watch swifts!

Research shows that birdwatching may help slow the progression of age-related cognitive decline and support our mental wellbeing.

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