Location, Location, Location…

You have all heard the real estate mantra “Location, Location, Location”. For chimney swift lodgings, location is an important factor too. Old growth forests and natural tree cavities once satisfied all of the swift’s housing needs. As those mature forest tracts became lost, chimney swifts adapted by shifting to urban, human-built habitat – chimneys.

Chimney swifts cling inside rough-interior structures with a minimum opening of 14″ X 14″ – one that will accommodate the outstretched wings of a swift. Old brick chimneys (at least 2.5 X 2.5 bricks wide) or large stacks in commercial buildings are ideal. Roost and nest sites typically are within 1-2 km of water and have a nearby source of abundant aerial insects (swifts only feed in the air). Nest sites are situated close to mature trees or shrubs which provide small diameter twigs for nest building.

In Manitoba, chimney swifts are at the northwestern periphery of their distribution. Conditions here are much different compared to the more southerly and easterly portions of their range. With the considerable environmental challenges comes a need for a suite of habitat characteristics which transcend the baseline of “location”.

The MCSI Steering Committee is pleased to introduce our most recent document: “Guidelines for Creating Chimney Swift Nesting or Roosting Chimneys in Manitoba”. It is posted on the MCSI website in the Resources section:

We invite you to read all about our current thoughts regarding those made-in-Manitoba challenges and optimal habitat requirements for our chimney swifts. Here is an excerpt from the “Regional Considerations” section:

“Compared to other regions occupied by Chimney Swifts, Manitoba has shorter nesting seasons, lower annual temperatures, less precipitation, longer daylight in summer, and large areas of grasslands where only riparian areas support trees of any significant size. Chimney Swifts in temperate regions grow more slowly but to larger final sizes than do those in subtropical climes (Marin and Naoki 2010). These basic differences must be borne in mind when considering the birds’ biology and effectiveness of artificial nesting structures elsewhere versus what may be required in Manitoba.” pg. 8.

​​We recognized that the very successful use of artificial towers (designed by the Kyle’s in Texas), in areas south of the U.S. border, was not being realized in Manitoba. Our earlier-built towers which followed the same design have not attracted a single chimney swift. So, we evaluated the factors that may contribute to micro-habitat in active roost/nest sites and now offer suggestions for design features to be incorporated into “new home starts” for swifts in our province. The bottom line is:

 “Clearly, the construction of habitat suitable for Chimney Swifts in Manitoba is an experiment in progress.” pg. 20.
Successful experiments require data input and assessment. The backbone of our “Guideline” deliberations rested on thinking about the active swift-friendly sites identified in Manitoba. All of those sites (=data) were reported by our volunteers – you! Your efforts have made a difference to our understanding of the chimney swifts which call Manitoba home for the breeding season.

Continuing with data collection for 2015, we welcome back our seasoned monitors and hope to find new swift-friendly faces by the chimney-sides this year. If field work is your favourite challenge, opportunities abound for boldly going forth to uncharted urban areas or questing the elusive old growth forest dwellers. Hide and seek (or is it hide and sneak?) is a great chimney swift pastime…

The monitoring package for 2015 will be rolled out in early April. We expect the chimney swifts to be with us in Manitoba near mid-May and our first “eyes to the sky” dates are set for the National Roost Monitoring Program – May 20, 24, 28 and June 2, followed by an extra MCSI night on June 6. The MCSI Steering Committee hopes to count you in!

Barb Stewart, for the MCSI team – Steering Committee Members: Christian Artuso, Ron Bazin, Neil Butchard, Lewis Cocks, Ken De Smet, Nicole Firlotte, Rob Stewart; Habitat Stewardship and Outreach Coordinator: Tim Poole (mcsi.outreach@gmail.com); and Webmaster: Frank Machovec.

A New Season Begins!

While Manitobans are hoping to nudge winter along, residents in the southern U.S. are welcoming spring and the arrival of chimney swifts. By mid-March, the first spring sightings in Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Florida are reported (follow the spring sightings links at the Chimney Swift Conservation Association – formerly Driftwood Wildlife Organization; renamed Jan. 1, 2015 – http://www.chimneyswifts.org/). By mid-May, our chimney swifts should be chittering overhead. 
So with the swifts on the wing and heading our way, it is time to launch our 2015 chimney swift season in Manitoba. The MCSI Steering Committee has been busy over the winter preparing resource material and we will be sending out information such as guidelines for building chimney swift habitat in Manitoba, fact sheets, a new Swift Champion program, and a package for roost/nest site monitors.
Monitoring activities kick-off in May with the third consecutive National Roost Monitoring Program (NRMP). The NRMP is organized by biologists with the Canadian Wildlife Service, Quebec Region. All across Canada, monitors will gather on set dates to watch chimney rims and collect chimney swift abundance/distribution data. Last year, 35 MCSI monitors contributed data for 23 sites in 11 communities. In 2015, we hope to continue supporting this important initiative so, please SAVE THESE NRMP DATES: MAY 20, 24, 28, JUNE 2 AND 6!
After the NRMP wraps up, MCSI monitors are encouraged to track the abundance of chsw at roost sites and activity at nest sites throughout the summer. In 2014, we had 57 volunteers monitoring 40 sites in 14 communities and 8 new sites were discovered! In addition, we would like to carry on the momentum generated from the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas and move all reported chimney swift sightings to the highest level of breeding evidence = confirmed breeding.
We will be in touch soon with more details ~ in the meantime, dust off your favourite “chimney swift” chairs and start those neck-strengthening exercises!
Barb Stewart (mbchimneyswift@gmail.com) for Tim Poole (Habitat Stewardship and Outreach Coordinator; mcsi.outreach@gmail.com) and the other Steering Committee Members – Christian Artuso, Ron Bazin, Neil Butchard, Lewis Cocks, Ken De Smet, Nicole Firlotte, and Rob Stewart. Thanks to webmaster Frank Machovec for making all of these postings possible.