Look up – Way Up!

Confessions from a person of a certain vintage: I loved the morning invitation from the FriendlyGiant to look waaaaay up and visit his castle…perhaps this early conditioning led to the love of staring at the sky around chimney rims. While the refrains from the harp and recorder were sweet, the chittering of chimney swifts is my favourite sound now. Near mid-May, we hope to look up, listen for, and welcome our chimney swifts back to Manitoba. Here is the monitoring plan for 2015…


The 2015 MCSI monitoring season will run with two programs (same as for 2014). We start by supporting the National Roost Monitoring Program (NRMP); the monitoring data tracks the spring arrival and dispersal of migrating swifts, records peak counts, and provides the basis for subsequent trend analysis. Bird Studies Canada, Ontario Region, then uses the NRMP data to map the results:
The NRMP monitoring protocol is posted at: http://www.mbchimneyswift.ca/Documents/NRMP2015.pdf

The monitoring season continues with our provincial MCSI Roost and Nest Site Monitoring Program. This program tracks the abundance of roosting chimney swifts and the progress of breeding pairs, and their young, at nest sites; fall migration trends also are documented. The provincial monitoring program data supports various MCSI Steering Committee activities e.g., the preparation of “Guidelines for Creating Chimney Swift Nesting or Roosting Chimneys in Manitoba” ( http://www.mbchimneyswift.ca/Documents/MCSI_artificialstructures2015.pdf ). Tim Poole, our MCSI Habitat Stewardship and Outreach Coordinator, will use your monitoring data to identify needs and deliver programs e.g., the restoration of a deteriorating site or a school visit.
The MCSI Roost and Nest Site Monitoring Program monitoring protocol is posted at:

The NRMP dates have been set for May 20, 24, 28, and June 2. The MCSI Steering Committee is asking for an extra evening of your valuable time on June 6. In Manitoba, chimney swifts occupy the northwest portion of the summer distribution. Our birds arrive later in the spring compared to areas further south and east. So, the addition of June 6 accommodates the offset date for peak migration in Manitoba.

The monitoring protocol for NRMP differs slightly for May and June.

For May 20, 24, 28:

  •     watch the chimneys for the roosting hour = 1/2 hour before to 1/2 hour after sunset;
  •     record the time of an entry or exit and the number of chimney swifts seen during the event.

MCSI would like to designate active chimneys as roost or nest sites. We distinguish between roost and nest sites on the basis of chimney swift behaviour. Roost sites are occupied by chimney swifts resting for the night; typically, only entries occur during the roosting hour and then the swifts leave the next morning within 1/2 hour of sunrise. Nest sites are used during the daytime i.e., times outside of the roosting hour (entries) and period of first morning departures (1/2 hour before to 1/2 hour after sunrise). In early June, daytime activity (entries/exits) indicates that breeding adults are nest building. So for the June dates, we are pushing our incredible good luck by asking you for a slightly longer viewing session.

For June 2 and 6:

  •     watch the chimneys for an extra 1/2 to 3/4 hour PRIOR to the roosting hour THEN CONTINUE to watch during the roosting hour. You will have a total of 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hour at the chimney side. Keep it convenient – any extra daytime monitoring would be appreciated.
  •     record the time of an entry or exit and the number of chimney swifts seen during the event.

Beyond the NRMP and extra MCSI date, any monitoring you do this year would be useful to us. Meeting with other monitors can add to the fun. The Selkirk Squad enjoys regular Monday outings to their sites. Last year, their hard work was rewarded with the discovery of two new active chimneys! Monitoring results from occasional viewing and opportunistic observations are valuable also – we keep track of them all. Tell us about any chimney swifts you see in 2015.


Monitors from previous years – please confirm that you will be participating in the 2015 program; we will partner you with last year’s site(s) unless you request a change of location.

New monitors – please self identify your interest and a convenient site will be assigned from our database (http://www.mbchimneyswift.ca/Documents/2014_sites.pdf).

If you were involved with Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas activities – try to advance your chimney swift observations to the highest breeding evidence category = “confirmed breeding”.

​If you are interested in a field assignment – range into uncharted urban territory and/or quest chimney swifts suspected to be using old growth forests e.g., Mount Agassiz area, Riding Mountain National Park.

At your designated sites, make yourself comfortable in a safe location (away from traffic) with an unobstructed view of the chimney rim. You will be focusing on the chimney rim to document chimney swift entries and exits. Chimney swifts can be meteoric in their entry to a chimney and they can be very stealthy with low angle exits –  if you blink you can miss all the action! That is why a buddy system is useful for monitoring. If you need to take a break, your partner can pick up viewing the rim. This is supposed to be a fun exercise in citizen science, so make whatever arrangements you need to personalize the experience.

USE THE MCSI MONITORING REPORT 2015 datasheet for ALL Manitoba monitoring sessions this season i.e., for both programs and at all sites. The datasheet is posted in the Resources section (http://www.mbchimneyswift.ca/resources.html) of the MCSI website as a WORD document and also as a pdf: http://www.mbchimneyswift.ca/Documents/MCSIData_Sheet_2015.pdf

SIT ‘N’ STARE at your chimney rim and RECORD the time of all observed entries/exits and the number of chimney swifts involved. DETAIL WEATHER CONDITIONS at the time of viewing: temperature (the most important for evaluating aerial activity as 13 C is the threshold for flying insects = dinner for our swifts!); wind speed; cloud cover; and precipitation. SUBMIT YOUR FORMS electronically or by mail. This is easier to do than it sounds – we try to follow the KISS approach.

If you are ranging into uncharted urban territory this year, trying to find new sites, start with the historical sections of towns. Old brick chimneys are often associated with churches, schools, post offices, and vintage homes; large stacks on hospitals also seem popular with the swifts. During the daytime, look for small numbers of low flying chimney swifts (often mixed in with purple martins) which have repetitive flight paths low over/around buildings. Try to narrow down candidate chimneys = open, rough-interior sites which are at least 2.5 X 2.5 bricks wide (minimum 14″ X 14″ opening), then follow the stare-down routine to catch an entry/exit event. For larger chimneys which may host a roosting group, try to identify increasing numbers of chimney swifts circling around a chimney just prior to sunset. Wait for the spectacle of the entries – it is often triggered by the first weary swift dropping in for the night; the remaining birds funnel in like water pouring down a drain. Try to count the birds as they drop into the chimney ~ it is a delightful challenge with a large flock, but try your best.

For old growth forest sleuths – you will be famous if you document chimney swift use of a natural tree cavity. None has been reported in Manitoba yet! Try to get a photograph, GPS coordinates, and document the details (date/time/weather conditions etc.) of your amazing discovery.

A vast array of other VOLUNTEER RESOURCES are posted on our MCSI website at http://www.mbchimneyswift.ca/resources.html . There are links to video clips, research/general interest articles, and the all important “Dashboard Placard” which identifies you as an MCSI volunteer.

Borrowing from an article published in the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas Spring Newsletter seems like a good way to sign off:

“While locating swifts may seem a daunting exercise, incredible rewards are possible. Last summer, we visited Goderich, ON, with birding friends. We were assured that no Chimney Swifts had been found in town by our hosts, local bird club members, and by the owner of the local wild bird supply store. Before we parked our vehicle, my husband chirped “there they are!” from the back seat. Three Chimney Swifts were making break neck flights around the town square, sometimes mixed in with Purple Martins. After a leisurely mid-day reconnaissance for candidate chimneys, we returned to the town square at dusk. By nightfall, a Chimney Swift quietly dropping into a smaller nest site in a private home and a roost of >150 swifts using a larger chimney at a church had been identified! Clearly, Chimney Swifts are to be discovered if an appropriate effort is made to look for them.”

We look forward to hearing from you and wish you the best for abundant chimney swift sightings in 2015!

Barb Stewart on behalf of the chimney swift 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.