Peering down the chimney…

Chimney Swift stewardship is all about reaching out to the general public and providing engaging information. When good fortune is on our side, good folks contact us at MCSI to share their experiences. Such was the case when Jeff reported in recently.

Aerial view of St Avilla School

On the morning of August 18, 2016, Jeff was dispatched by a local chimney cleaning firm, to St Avila School in Fort Richmond, Winnipeg. He had quite an unexpected and raucous reception as he peered over the chimney rim! Two breeding adult Chimney Swifts, clinging to the interior wall, voiced their considerable displeasure at having their nest site disturbed. Three young juveniles sat stuffed into a small twig nest. At approximately 21 days of age, juvenile swifts move out of the nest onto the wall of the chimney. Then they practice flying up and down the shaft of the chimney until fledging at 28-30 days of age. So, the St Avila young were at least a week away from their first flight outside the chimney when Jeff spied them.

After shooting an amazing video to document the event, Jeff prudently withdrew from the chimney. It is all to easy for folks dealing with species at risk to quietly go the “shoot, shovel, and shut up” route. MCSI is grateful that Jeff allowed the St Avila swifts to carry on undisturbed at their nest site. Click here to view the 46 second video on YouTube.

Our on-the-road specialists, Frank and Jacquie, monitored St Avila school on August 19. There was intense activity – the 2 adults had 6 feeding entry/exit cycles in the 1.5 hours preceding their nighttime roosting entries. We will continue to monitor the progress of these swifts and hope for successful fledging soon.

For history and archicture buffs, there is information about  St Avila School on the Manitoba Historical Society and Manitobe Architecture Foundation websites.

With this special shout out of THANKS to Jeff for allowing us to post his video, enjoy the rare view of Chimney Swifts inside a nest site…

–Barb Stewart


Going, going…soon to be gone!

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAemAAAAJDhiYWY0MGJkLTdjOWYtNDM0NC1iOGYxLWQ3ZjJiNTU4YzYzYgIt’s mid-August already. Our last blog update was at the end of July. Since then, the “radio silence” has not reflected an absence of Chimney Swift news. Rather, monitors have been inundating me with truly fascinating reports.
Here is a very brief synopsis of some of the key developments. A detailed update with everyone’s monitoring results will follow when I finish up with daytime monitoring.
In early August, new fledglings were greeting by John at one of his City Centre sites, Tim witnessing a “wobbly” entry in Melita, and Winona seeing a family group flying about her Selkirk site.
In St Adolphe, the stealth swifts that flew so far under the radar at Main St. that they had belly rubs, fledged young on Aug. 12; I actually thought they had a nest failure in mid-July. A very late starting SE Club Amical breeding attempt is still playing out.
I often ask “Does the St Adolphe breeding situation specifically reflect the provincial condition generally?” This year, the answer is yes.
Gord, in Portage, reported in on the weekend that 2 nest sites have young in them still – Janice and other recruits also are pushing late season monitoring sessions to track developments – these were also stealthy, late nesters as no nest building behaviour was seen by early July. A race to the season end is underway as migration has begun. Gord wonders if adults ever abandon juveniles and if very late-fledging young will be at risk during migration. Great questions.
Indications of migration comes from our big three roosts. In Dauphin, Ken had 19 roosting swifts on July 29, then 10 on August 5. The Selkirk Large Stack had 17 roosting swifts on July 18, then 27 on August 3; some local nest sites have emptied. At the Assiniboine School, Adolf noticed the August 2 counts had dropped significantly to 8 swifts, from 61-63 on July 25; the August 6 count was zero.
Matt, in Carman, witnessed late evening departures (~9 PM) from a roost on August 12 and the 4 swifts did not return that night. On Saturday, Matt checked in the morning and evening, and no swifts were seen in town at all.
Next round, we’ll feature detailed monitoring results from: Millie and Margaret in Souris; road warriors, Jacquie and Frank, in Aubigny, Otterburne, and Winnipeg; David in La Broquerie; Ken in Wasagaming; John, at yet another new City Centre nest site; the Selkirk birding club; the St James observers; Ken and Jan in Dauphin; Matt in Carman; and a multi-site recon from the St Adolphe team.
Chimney SwiftThe next blog instalment likely will come when most of our sites have emptied. Until then, enjoy your last Chimney Swift sightings for 2016. If you feel inspired for just one more head count, send in your news. Your participation is always appreciated and the results are golden!
— Barb Stewart

Looking for swift sites

search-clipartMy personal highlight of being involved in MCSI in the last couple of years is hearing different peoples stories of finding new sites for swifts in Manitoba and sharing their experiences. So far in 2016, 13 new site codes have been issued by Barb, which reflects brilliantly on the endeavours of MCSI volunteers. Each time a new site is reported, there is always a story to tell and this blog uses extracts from emails and a couple of personal accounts to give a impression of how these sites are found.

Site 1 – Portage Avenue, St James – the eagle-eyed spotter
David Wiebe is part of a team monitoring the chimneys around Assiniboine School in St James. He recently sent a report of a new chimney on Portage Avenue which was found thanks to Jake Peters of Osborne Village fame. Here is Davids report:

Assiniboine School

‘A couple of days ago I looked more closely at the apt block on Portage Ave right beside the Carillon on the east side of it. 1780 Portage. Something Jake Peters had said the last time he was monitoring with us made me curious. And so I noticed upon closer inspection that it has a chimney mostly hidden because of trees. Because of the trees and because it is barely higher than the roof there is almost no spot where the chimney can be seen. So this evening I thought I would look at that spot and see if any swifts went there. Lo and behold at 9:20 I saw one swift go down there, and although I couldn’t actually see it enter the chimney it is the only thing that could have happened. A new site!’


Sites 2 and 3 – the historic anomalies, St Francois Xavier and Lanark Gardens
Some sites have been on the database for years but no one has ever recorded an entry by a Chimney Swift. Marshall Birch has been working on bird stewardship projects with Nature Manitoba and here tells us how he has finally managed to find swifts in some chimneys:

St Francois Xavier

During an outing to visit Grant’s Lake and Delta Marsh IBAs, Tim figured we might as well stop by some potential Swift nesting sites which had yet to be confirmed. St Francois Xavier lies along Highway 26, around 30 km West of Winnipeg. The centrepiece of the town is the stately St. Francois Xavier Parish Church, built in 1900, and sporting and mighty intriguing chimney on the back. It had long been suspected as a Swift site, and we were here to investigate. Some time was spent on lookout (on the hottest day in recent memory), and after being repeatedly teased by Swallows, we decided there wasn’t anything going on and went to check out the oxbow lake before taking off. As we were returning to the car, the tell-tale call of Swifts was heard, and two were spotted above the church. We staked out shady spots to watch, and after about five minutes, I caught one Swift exit the chimney – the very moment Tim looked away to change position, of course. No entrance was seen, and while this amount of time spent in a chimney mid-day is unusual, its not unheard of. On a day that hot, everyone needs a bit of extra time to rest!’

And Marshall again

‘My first Swift search of the season was a successful one. Just South of Corydon, on Lanark Street, is a series of apartment buildings, which have been on the MCSI’s list for some time without any confirmation. What’s interesting about this site is that it encompasses not one but nine buildings, each with its own chimney, and some with two. While I was able to stake out a place in the back lane that provided a view of four chimneys, it became clear why this site hasn’t been successfully monitored. There were certainly Swifts in the area, but even if I had a position from which I could see all the chimneys, there could be an entrance in one in a split second as I glance at another – they’re that darned quick. As time went on and the realization that monitoring this site was really more like monitoring about ten at once, I began to lose hope. Noting that they seemed to be swooping mostly around one end of the area, I changed my position slightly and focused over there. Just as I did this, two Swifts slipped into a chimney in front of me. I’d say that a good deal of luck was at play this evening, though a history of interest in the site was what had led me there in the first place.

Granite Curling Club
Granite Curling Club

Site 4 and 5 – pure luck, the Granite Curling Club and the Pembina Rexall
Usually finding Chimney Swift habitat comes down to a combination of skill, knowledge and hours of work. Occasionally luck becomes the key factor in finding swifts. Here I give an account of finding a new site:

‘Arriving at work one day, Marshall asked whether there are known Chimney Swift sites near Balmoral Avenue as he had spotted 10 Chimney Swifts circling the area the previous evening. There was nothing in the immediate vicinity on the database apart from the new chimneys in Osborne Village. I decided to pop over to the area on my bike. The Granite Curling Club has a rather funky chimney with 5 flues on top. While passing this point, I saw a streamlined black object plunge into one of these flues – a Chimney Swift – that was one lucky chance! On another occasion, I saw a pair of Chimney Swifts plunge into a known site on Roslyn while waiting at the bus stop (thanks again Jake Peters for finding this site in 2015). Luck is sometimes needed in Chimney Swift world.’

And back to Marshall:

‘Luck played a key role in a site spotting a few weeks back while driving down Pembina. There had been suspicion that a chimney atop a Rexall could be inhabited by Swifts, though no sightings had been recorded. While driving by, Tim suggested I take a peek, and lo and behold, a Swift was just passing by the chimney. We immediately pulled over to survey the scene. At first it seemed like not much going on – there appeared to be a couple of Swifts in the area, but they showed little interest in the chimney. We were about to assume they were nesting elsewhere and take off when I spotted a black flash near the chimney in the corner of my eye. We hung around for another few minutes – long enough to witness the Swift reappear out of the chimney and to confirm it was being used. While instances of this sort aren’t that common, it’s amazing how often one can find Swifts if they’ve just got it in their head to keep an ear and eye out. Since getting involved with Swifts I’ve hardly gone a day without seeing or hearing a few somewhere around the city – but maybe I’m just extra lucky.’

Site 6 and 7 – good old fashioned endeavour and sleuthing, William and McDermot
I suspect most Chimney Swift sites over the years have been found thanks to good old fashioned boots on the ground looking up to the skies. Each year many of you are doing just this, heads to the skies. John Hays, a Nature Manitoba member has been doing just that:

‘Friday evening I went back to the area where I had seen swifts that afternoon. I watched the sky and a couple of chimneys from the Parts Source parking lot at Notre Dame and Isabel for more than an hour, about 8:30 till 9:45. I saw no Swifts. Still curious I tried again Saturday evening at Isabel and William and found swifts flying every few minutes. I could not count more than 6 at a time in the air. I watched the chimney on 442 William from about 8:20 till 9:50. At 9:44 I saw 2 swifts enter the chimney and another at 9:45.’
‘Since monitoring the chimney at 442 William I have been dropping by there and two other spots nearby, hoping to see a daytime entry or exit. Yesterday, July 2nd, my time invested payed off. At 4:46 PM after looking at a chimney for about 10 minutes I had an entry and within a minute an exit. I stayed for another 40 minutes but did not see another exit or entry, although swifts were flying by. This happened at the chimney on the northwest corner of the old warehouse at 579 McDermot ave. A clear view of the chimney is had from the corner of Bannatyne and Lydia. This morning I went back at 10:40 AM and had the first entry at 11:23 AM and exit at 11:28. Had to wait till 12:29 PM for the second entry and 12:48 for the exit.’

411 Stradbrook

St Augustine Church

Sites 8 and 9 – using technology to find Chimney Swifts, Osborne Village
Where possible, I have been using Google Satellite Images and Street view to find information on swift sites. The quality of these images especially in larger cities like Winnipeg and Brandon, is such that they can show whether there is a gaping hole in the top of a chimney or not. This could in theory then be used to point new volunteers to possible monitoring sites. In a few cases this has led to discovery of new sites for swifts. Back to Marshall:


‘I’d been out to investigate a site from the MCSI database in the Osborne Village area one night. While no entrances or exits were seen, it was notable how many Swifts were in the area. This got us thinking that there must be other nest sites in the vicinity. Using Google Earth, Tim scanned aerial images of the neighbourhood and came up with four potential sites – they seemed to be the right size and looked uncapped. Several evenings were spent lurking about back alleys, scoping out chimneys. Of the four, two proved to have no activity, while there were entrances spotted at two of the locations. A 50/50 success rate ain’t bad for guessing sites based on aerial images, and certainly confirms validity for the technique!’

–Tim Poole

Breaking news…July ends

wake-me-up-when-july-ends-1Just as the “Heading Into The Home Stretch” edition was being beamed up to Frank, our webmaster, the postal service and web server delivered a delightful array of messages. Unfortunately, with a “black and white bush kitty” delivering a smelly spray to our naïve 14 month old golden retriever, skunky cleanup duties took over. Here are the news items submitted from that fateful night of July 26 through to the end of the month…

John continued his diligent tracking of two City Centre nest sites on July 24. In the morning at 41 Princess, John saw 6 entries and 6 exits in 78 minutes – two consecutive entries and, later, two consecutive exits confirmed that feeding non-brooded young was well underway. In the early afternoon at 579 McDermot, the 2 attending adults made simultaneous, or nearly simultaneous (less than a minute apart) entries and exits. There were 4 entries and 4 exits seen in 42 minutes = excellent care giving effort to non-brooded young. All the best for successful fledging at your nest sites John!

On July 25, the St James squad snagged roosting hour counts for all four of their sites. We certainly appreciate the ongoing efforts of these volunteers during the busy summer months! Here is what Jake, Donald, Anna, and Adolf saw:

  • Carillon Tower- 3 entries
  • Kings Theatre – 3 entries
  • 1780 Portage (new site east of the Carillon) – an entry/exit cycle was seen followed by an entry. This appears to be a nest site.
  • Assiniboine school – 61-63 roosting; “activity was very similar to that on 21 July: a buildup of the flock whirling over the school beginning at about 9:48 to 9:50.” There were single entries at 9:40 and 9:48 PM, then between 9:50-9:57, the others descended including a “bulk entry of ca. 20 birds”. That is a real challenge to count. It will be interesting to see if any pre-migratory increases start soon at the Assiniboine School roost.
Assiniboine School Chimney

Tim went to check out John’s City Centre William Avenue. site on July 26. The day was sizzling with more than high temperatures – the discovery of new site 2016-15 took place “…while heading back down William I noticed a chimney on 471 William just emerging from the rooftop and a swift overhead. What d’you know, the swift entered at 1310.” Congratulations Tim on identifying yet another active site for the critical habitat registry!
Now Tim might have taken heat in a different fashion, but I hope Chimney Swifts added to the charm of a special anniversary dinner instead of being a distraction…on July 26, swifts were seen regularly from an outdoor patio on Corydon and one descended toward a Dorchester chimney. A post-prandial walk featured 20 swifts flying about Lilac and Grosvenor. Aerial activity over a couple of homes near Edderton Park was particularly “crazy”. If you are in the vicinity, this hot spot appears to be great Chimney Swift habitat.

Joel, in The Pas, had several sightings from June 17 to 23. He saw trio flying – ” 3 swifts together in territorial like chases”. After being out of town, Joel returned to sky gazing on July 7 but no sightings were made until the early evening of July 22 when 1 swift was seen flying “round and round the railway station”. On July 24 another sighting was made ~5:30pm, beyond the west side of town, while fishing (just like going to the Fringe Fest, heading to the fishing hole is a good multi-tasking pastime) – 2 barn swallows and a swift were pursuing a Merlin. What a great value-added sighting. As Joel summed up the 2016 season to date, “The swifts are here somewhere, but time and luck have yet to join forces.” We hope you identify the first active site in The Pas sooner than later!

The troops assembled at St Adolphe for a multi-site robust roosting hour session on July 27 (no Pokémon Gym battles were engaged in). Here is what we found:

Kathy and Rob (and the stinky pup) were at Club Amical –
SE Club Amical: feeding non-brooded young (fledging due August 6-7-8); 2 entry/exit cycles plus 2 roosting entries

NE Club Amical: nest failure site July 16 – feeding non-brooded young, Day 13; 0 entries/exits

Jacquie watched Brodeur Bros: nest failure site July 15 – feeding brooded young, Day 6; 1 roosting entry

Frank and Lewis monitored the non-stop action at the Church: feeding non-brooded young (fledging due July 30-31-Aug 1); 19 entries, 19 exits, and 2 roosting entries together at end of session

Barb looked at the Main St chimney: nest failure site July 16 – possibly feeding brooded young, Day 2; 2 entry/exit cycles; 1 roosting entry

CHSW nest - credit South Carolina Department of  Natural Resources

In retrospect, signs of change were evident in St Adolphe. Helpers had not been at the two nest sites for a week and the maximum aerial group size declined from 5-6 to 3 swifts. I was quite shocked, however, to have no swifts roosting at the NE Club and only 1 roosting at Brodeurs and Main St. Way back in the early monitoring years (2007-2010), all the swifts would hang around in St A through August and often form a pre-migratory group at the Church or another successful site. In more recent years, unsuccessful breeders would stay through the first week of August at least – once a fledging took place at some site, unsuccessful breeders seemed “cued” for release and then they left the community.

Margaret and Millie’s site in Brandon gave us the first indication of early withdrawal/relocation for unsuccessful breeding birds in 2016. They had reported 0 roosting swifts on both July 18 and 24.

The million dollar question is “where are these unsuccessful breeders going?”

Tim was following a hunch again on July 28 while “passing the Flag Shop this evening and thought I would stop and take a look on the off chance of activity. Turns out it was a good decision. About a minute after leaving the car at 7:29, a swift enters the chimney. Approximately 30-40 seconds later a swift left, swiftly followed by another about 15 seconds later.” This site has been in our database since 2007, routinely has a small number of occupants, and is likely a nest site.

As noted in our previous blog, Margaret and Millie were planning a trip to Souris. They visited on July 28, after checking their line of bluebird nesting boxes ~ another great volunteer activity! A group of 12 Chimney Swifts were flying around which was a welcome sight. Margaret and Millie “drove around and found the chimneys where swifts had been seen and spent some time at the museum and the Rock Shop hoping to see an entry. No luck. We did see swifts high in the sky while in the vicinity of the museum but most of the action happened between 7:30 & 8:45 in the vicinity of St Paul’s United Church, Kowalchuk’s Funeral Home, and west. The swifts were flying low and quite vocal – none appeared to be taking any food to any young!” Thanks so much for your recon report Margaret and Millie. The situation in Souris merits further monitoring, so we would appreciate suggestions for local volunteers who might be recruited.

Jake was at his 94 Roslyn Rd site on the evening of July 29. He saw 6 entry/exit cycles then 2 roosting entries – fledging is at hand!

Ken and Jan, up in Dauphin, were also out for the roosting hour on July 29. One swift appeared 20 minutes into the session, then at the 45 minute mark, “swoosh – a whole bunch” showed up. Two swifts entered followed rapidly by 17 more; 1 swift was in the air at the end of the monitoring session (19 roosted; 20 seen). Ken’s impression was that the large group of swifts could be a migratory group. The solstice head count in Dauphin was 4-6 seen in the air. The northern swifts seem to be on the move…

Gord and Janice took on a special assignment, heading to Manitou on July 29. Remember the backstory that Ken had identified swifts in this community during his July 4 recon. Janice and Gord’s time was well spent as they discovered new site 2016-16 – 338 Hamilton St, St Andrews United Church. During the robust roosting hour session, 4 Chimney Swifts were seen in the air and all 4 roosted in the Church chimney.

Moving ahead one day and onto the final stage of nesting, I am happy to announce that fledglings were seen mid-morning of Saturday, July 30 at the St Adolphe Church. On the previous morning, many “strafing run” approaches to the chimney were seen plus adults were dropping down then veering off close to the rim. I interpreted the behaviour to be what the Kyle’s describe as adults luring the juveniles close to the top of the chimney just prior to fledging.

On Saturday morning, the identification of a fledgling could not have been easier – I sat in my chair and stared up, only to have a low, slow flying swift oblige me with an easy view of its trailing wing margin. It was INTACT – no moulting discontinuities were seen. After watching groups of birds fly around the area and seeing escorted, cautious but competent entries into the chimney (no tumbling misses), I realized that these were not first-flights. My best guesstimate is that 2, perhaps 3, fledglings were airborne sometime on Friday, July 29 AFTER I finished monitoring for the morning OR fledging had taken place very early on the morning of the 30th.

Checking in St A again during the morning of July 31, I saw 2 juveniles jostle for position during their near simultaneous entries to the Church. Good news continued as the SE Club Amical young were being fed; at Day 22, the juveniles should have been out of the bowl of the nest and onto the wall of the chimney. That boded well for the severe storms which were predicted to finish off July’s awful weather events…Rob and I managed an evening session at the Church on July 31 – we saw a juvenile in flight and the roosting count was 3. In a few days, another robust roosting hour count should help confirm the number of fledglings at the Church; juveniles often head into the chimney to rest well ahead of the roosting hour curfew so it can take up to a week to get an accurate census.

Garry also checked out his Watt Street nest site on July 31. It was a profitable trip as Garry noticed entries which were “slower, less-direct, more horizontal approach, with a very brief stall at the rim”. Fledging has taken place likely! Thanks Garry for tracking this site over the season – it is useful to gauge the breeding success of Chimney Swifts throughout Manitoba to understand the provincial situation.

Frank & Jacquie, Tim, and Lewis took to the road for a multi-site recon at Otterburne on July 31. Jacquie and Frank have wondered about the convent and church sites across the river from Providence College. Jacquie and Tim became blood donors to a flock of mosquitoes while they watched swift-free air space. Lewis and Frank had a civilized monitoring session, replete with classical music. Their monitoring results for the three Providence College chimneys – relative to previous sessions – are:

Site 550 – chimney near bell tower: 2 roosting on July 18 and 0 roosting on July 31; there was never any real nest building activity noted by the end of June, so I would say that a breeding attempt was never underway. There they are gone.

Site 551 – fat chimney: 11 entries, 5 exits and 6 in for the night on July 18 = an unusual (ok, weird) number of birds for a nest site, but too much activity for a typical roost; there were 4 entries and 3 exits and 3 in the chimney on July 31. Net loss = 3 swifts. Should we designate this as a roost site for 2016 and consider that some birds have dispersed? Another monitoring session would be useful to figure out what is going on.

Site 552 – skinny chimney: 12 entries, 8 exits, and 4 roosting for the night on July 18 = breeding pair + 2 helpers? OR a small roost?; there were 13 entries, 12 exits, and 3 roosting for the night on July 31.There were three instances of 2 entries and 2 exits occurring very close together – more so than on July 18. Given the date, high level of activity, and clumping sequences, fledging may be at hand…however, juveniles were not obvious…this does appear to be a nest site, so a follow-up monitoring session within the next 10 days would be useful.

Frank and Jacquie are planning another trip to Otterburne to help decode the end of July activity. Good luck!

Happy Canada Day!That’s a wrap for July – thanks everyone for such a strong monitoring push this past week.

August may not be a full month with Chimney Swifts in Manitoba after all. We have had indications of early withdrawal of unsuccessful breeding swifts from nest sites. The northern most roost is approaching a secondary pre-migratory peak for the season.

Many questions remain about the current Chimney Swift activity at both nest and roost sites. As usual, the swifts lure us to monitor yet one more time…

Barb for the MCSI team: Frank Machovec, webmaster; Tim Poole, Habitat Stewardship and Outreach Coordinator; Christian Artuso, Ron Bazin, Neil Butchard, Lewis Cocks, Ken De Smet, Nicole Firlotte, and Rob Stewart, Steering Committee Members.

Assiniboine School Swift Night

Assiniboine School

Bit late to the party, but I thought I would share a few photos from the successful swift viewing evening from June 20th. In total 24 people attended, including the regular crowd of dedicated volunteers (David, Adolf, Beth among others). We even managed to drag some locals on a night time stroll over to watch the developing spectacle. Our counters at the main chimney estimated that 70-71 Chimney Swifts had entered the chimney (including some exiters, which was somewhat surprising). A video of the evening put the final total at 71. Great job Jacquie and Frank and the others helping them!

Here are a few photos. We will certainly be doing this again in 2017!

Watching the chimney at Assiniboine School
Swifts at the Assiniboine School

Tim Poole

Heading into the home stretch

downloadhhWe are heading into the home stretch…the end of July is in sight and the calendar is getting ready to flip over to August – our last full month with Chimney Swifts in Manitoba. It is time for a nest site update and a review of the remarkable developments made by our volunteers. Monitors continued to track nest site progress and roost site dynamics. The number of newly discovered active sites for our critical habitat registry has swollen in July. Here’s what happened…

Our last blog update focused on nest sites and how to identify hatching and feeding brooded young; there is a subtle transition from one entry/exit cycle per hour seen during incubation to two entry/exit cycles per hour for the feeding brooded young stage. On Day 6-7, juveniles can regulate their own temperatures. Then, both parents can leave the chimney to forage. The key to identifying the feeding non-brooded young stage is consecutive entries or exits.

Saturday, July 9, Day 7 at the St Adolphe Church (hatching took place on July 3); 9:50-10:50 AM:
10:15:51 entry
10:22:24 entry = two consecutive entries; the nest site was unattended from at least 9:50 AM to 10:15 AM
10:23:05 exit – one swift is in the chimney
10:32:31 entry – two swifts are in the chimney
10:32:51 exit – likely a partner exchange
10:45:40 entry – two swifts are in the chimney
10:46:05 exit – one swift was in the chimney at the end of the monitoring session

The feeding rate was 4 X per hour.

Around Day 21, the juveniles move from the bowl of the nest to the wall of the chimney. A lot of wing flapping takes place to exercise flight muscles. Eventually, mini-training flights take place up and down the chimney shaft. The adults start to draw the juveniles up to the rim of the chimney with repetitive entries and exits…fledging is the next important milestone.

Fledging occurs on Day 28-30. For the Church birds, the date range for fledging is calculated as July 30-31-Aug 1.

Calm mornings seem to be ideal for first flights outside of the chimney. Fledglings can be recognized by their intact wing margins – adults are moulting at this time of the year and have gaps or discontinuities in their trailing wing margins. Fledglings also fly lower in the air column, often with very rapid wing beats for slow air speed. Hesitant and, often, missed entries into natal chimneys are classic. There is a real skill set that needs to be developed to become proficient aerial foragers. For about a week post-fledging, the youngsters return to the chimney to rest during the day and be fed by the adults. This activity lessens and once daytime use finishes, it is time to shift back to robust roosting hour monitoring sessions to track site use before migration.

images (1)Unfortunately, there is a down side of up. Three of the five nest sites in St Adolphe failed in a rather catastrophic 2 day period. On July 15, the Brodeur Bros pair did not attend the chimney (Day 6, feeding brooded young). On July 16, the adults at both the NE Club Amical (Day 13, feeding non-brooded young) and Main St (Day 2?, possibly feeding brooded young) chimneys also stopped making daytime entries. Whether the nests were washed out by recent heavy downpours, or loosened then slipped on a time lag, or food supplies dwindled to critically low levels will be determined in the fall with a look into cleanout traps.

The up side of the down side was that local swifts re-dispersed. Helper birds came onsite at the Church July 18 -within two days of the nest failures. Helpers had been at SE Club Amical for the first week post-hatch (July 10-16). It becomes chaotic to move between all the sites in town to witness this dynamic behaviour! Hopefully, the swifts at these two sites will have positive breeding outcomes.

Now, onto the achievements of our Citizen Scientists…

On July 4, at 395 River Ave, Marshall watch 10 swifts in the air. Although some moved toward the chimney, no entries were made. Tim and Marshall did a quick Google Earth search and found 5 potential sites in the immediate area to scout out.

In St James on July 5, Adolf, Don, Jake, and Anna watched their three sites. Two swifts entered the Carillon; no activity was seen at Kings Theatre but a lot of activity took place at Assiniboine School – 70 swifts roosted for the night.

Also on July 5, the Selkirk birders were out to check their sites. The East Selkirk Hydro site was not included as no entries had been noticed for over a week.

  • Dorothy, Robert, Gerald, and James, at the Large Stack, noted 15 entries but at least 5 were in air at the end of the session when it was too dark to see the rim. Gerald noted “We are not sure if they went elsewhere or entered in the dark.”
  • Gerald and Robert counted 1 entry and 1 exit, but 0 roosting at the Small Yellow Chimney; it was too dark to see the chimney rim at end of the session, so it is not known if any of the stragglers from the Large Stack entered this site.
  • Winona was at the Merchants Hotel and saw 1 roosting entry; 6 swifts were seen in air.
  • Sharon and Carol at the Manitoba Ave site recorded 2 entry/exit cycles but 0 roosted.
  • Robert, at the Infirmary, had another busy night with 7+ entries and 6+ exits; the last entry for the evening at 9:50 PM.

Ken was scouting out a new location on July 5. In Manitou, he saw “3 swifts in the air over the centre of town & later two near the north end.” Ken suspects that multiple pairs of swifts are nesting in town.

Heading back to Winnipeg, Garry spent close to 2 hours in a neck straining session at 722 Watt St. on July 7. He was rewarded with three entry/exit cycles. Incubation or hatching? More on this site later…

After the scouting session in Manitou, Ken turned his attention to Stonewall on July 10. The tenth new site for the season was discovered during the roosting hour! Ken was expecting to see an entry at the Catholic Church but another Main St site was used. More chimneys in town are likely in use.

Gord gave us a shout from Maine on July 11 – he enjoyed seeing swifts in both Kennebunkport and Ogunquit. It’s lovely viewing swifts in any location.

Tim has landed an amazing Green Team employee for the summer. Marshall’s sightings have been reported in previous blogs but he gets a special shoutout with his discovery of a trio of new sites:

2016-11  Augustine United Church, 444 River Ave.; 2 entries, July 8
2016-12  Lancaster Apt., 411 Stradbrook Ave.; 4 entries, July 9
2016-13  Rexall Pharma Plus, 1295 Pembina Hwy, Fort Garry; entry July 14 (with Tim)

Great work this summer Marshall!

John was at one of his three 2016-discovered sites in the City Centre on July 10. At the McDermot site, 2 entry/exit cycles were made – young were being fed. There was no hidden component to the activity outside the chimney, “Had a little drama on the roof with a Merlin and 5 crows interacting which seemed to keep the swift from entering. It made 13 flybys in 16 minutes, only going into the chimney after the crows and Merlin had left.”

That wasn’t the end to John’s amazing moments…on July 15, between Fringe Fest plays, John took a lunch break to stare at a candidate chimney at 41 Princess St.  “What do you know, I had an entry and exit within ten minutes. Went back on the 17th and had 2 exits and an entry in a little more than an hour.” I suspect rim-staring behaviour would slip in nicely to the fringe milieu – well done John!

Adolf, Don, Jake, and Peter spent the evening of July 14 at the Assiniboine School roost. They saw ~4 early exits then steady entries to a maximum of 59 for the night (similar to June 28); the roosting numbers seem to be seesawing between 58 and 70 (solstice). The season long efforts of the St James monitors, who track roost numbers at the largest site is appreciated!

Garry was back at his Watt St site on July 17 to see regular exchanges every 1/2 hour. The adults were indeed feeding brooded young.

downloadOur on-the-road specialists, Frank and Jacquie, were down in Otterburne on July 18. There was a lot of action and all three chimneys on Providence College were in use: 2 swifts entered the chimney near the bell tower; 6 went in the Large Chimney – a lot of entry/exits before the roosting hour indicated feeding non-brooded with helpers onsite but 6 is an unlikely number for a nest site. The swifts were flying very low all night, making shallow exits, therefore, some events may have been missed; 4 swifts used the Skinny Chimney – with four consecutive entries to start session, many exit/entries, and four final consecutive roosting entries, a breeding pair plus 2 helpers was indicated.

Late last summer, Blaire identified a candidate chimney at the St Norbert Parish Church. Lucy checked it out during the NRMP evenings and saw nothing more than friendly neighbours. The recent good news is that Blaire had 3 confirmed entries during the roosting hour on July 19; 1 likely entry was made as she was leaving the area. This chimney needs repairing so it is now on the list of possible sites to be attended to under Tim’s stewardship activities. Thanks Blaire for moving the status of the St Norbert Parish Church onto the active site list!

Rudolf has been travelling extensively this year, but found a slot to head to various sites to check out the activity. On July 19, 7 swifts were observed around the 690 St Joseph St. site.

Early in the evening of July 20, 8 swifts were seen in the East Kildonan area; one swift was seen to enter the site at 1030 Brazier but no use was seen at the 1010 Brazier site and Curtis Hotel sites. Impending weather may have contributed to the activity level…more on that shortly.

The morning of July 20 was auspicious for a couple of reasons. Tim and Marshall stopped in at the St Francois Xavier Church. After walking the grounds for a few minutes, Marshall detected an exit from the chimney. This was the first confirmed use of the chimney – it was monitored once in 2010 and no swifts entered or exited the chimney. The St F-X chimney is also in need of repair, so it benefits from being identified as an active site.

A notable weather event unraveled on the evening of July 20. A massive storm hit Manitoba in the early evening, spawning tornadoes in the Portage area. Monitors wisely took shelter that night, but were soon back at the chimney-sides.

On July 21, Adolf and Donald checked out Assiniboine School once more and had a count of 58 +/- 5. It is extremely difficult to count clumps of swifts which drop simultaneously into a roost site!

Jake was out at his Roslyn Rd. sites on July 21 and 22. A pair was onsite at each of the 94 Roslyn Rd and 100 Roslyn Rd locations both nights.

On to July 23 and back to Garry’s Watt St site. There was crazy busy action during a 45 minute observation period when 13 entry/exits were made! A highly abundant local patch of insects was likely fueling the activity.

Paul Goossen posted an update on Manitoba Birds – Last evening (23 July) my wife and I took a drive out to Darlingford and Manitou. It didn’t take too long after arriving at the Darlingford School Heritage Museum to see a Chimney Swift exiting the chimney at 1955 h. Thirteen minutes later, two were seen flying in the vicinity of the Museum and at 2010 h and 2012 h, each swift made an entry into the chimney. About a minute after the last swift went in, both exited separately. Their behaviour suggests they have young.

In Manitou I watched a couple of chimneys along Park Avenue just off Main Street. We arrived just before 2100 h. No swifts were seen or heard after 20 minutes of observing. It maybe we didn’t watch long enough, or the chimneys are not being used. More scouting and observing is needed to find out where the swifts in Manitou are roosting and/or nesting.

Back to Selkirk updates:

July 12: Winona had very active entry and exit events at the Merchant Hotel; the high level of activity continued on July 19 suggesting a nest site has progressed to the stage of feeding non-brooded young.

July 18: Robert, at the Infirmary, had 12 entry and 12 exit events which also suggested feeding non-brooded young.

July 18: Sharon and Carol saw 4 swifts flying around their Manitoba Ave site but no entries/exits were made.

July 18: Gerald and Robert at the Yellow Brick Chimney, for a robust roosting hour session, saw 8 entry and 6 exit events – 3 swifts were inside at one time = a helper may be onsite.

July 18: Gerald and Robert also monitored the Large Stack where 17 swifts roosted for the night; the roosting count was similar to July 5 when 15 swifts roosted but 5 were still in the air at the end of the monitoring session.

Margaret and Millie, have been going the extra mile to track swifts at their nest site in Brandon. On July 14, 2 roosting entries were made but on July 18, no entries or exits were observed. Checking in again on July 24, no swifts were seen – the swifts have abandoned the nest site after an unsuccessful, short lived breeding attempt. On June 21, entries/exits at this site indicated that nest building was underway but by June 28 roosting entries only were seen. Margaret reported huge amounts of rain fell in the Brandon area and that could certainly affect positive nesting outcomes. We are fortunate to have Margaret and Millie head off to Souris now to check in on Chimney Swifts before the season ends!

Your opportunistic observations, monitoring data, and site discoveries are important inputs to the MCSI program. Through your efforts, we are making steady progress in understanding roost site dynamics and nest site success. Importantly, the distribution of Chimney Swifts in Manitoba is becoming better known. With the identification of active habitat by monitors, the stewardship aspect of MCSI activity can follow. Please keep your reports coming in and let us know about candidate chimneys requiring repair!

pokemonIt should be noted that the artificial tower in  Saint Adolphe is getting a lot of attention in recent days. It seems that the tower may not be attracting swifts, but it is attracting pocket monsters, or those looking for them. There have been more folks standing in front of that structure over the last two weeks than in its history!


Happy Swifting, Barb for the MCSI Team.



e1dd2-sunTo our monitor’s credit, new sites are still being discovered and reported. Adding to our habitat inventory, and registering his second new site of the season, John reported the use of an old warehouse chimney at 579 McDermot (City Centre area of Winnipeg). John was monitoring for over 2 straight hours to document the July 3rd activity, “This morning I went back at 10:40 AM and had the first entry at 11:23 AM and exit at 11:28. Had to wait till 12:29 PM for the second entry and 12:48 for the exit.” With an entry/exit exchange once an hour, incubation is indicated at a nest site. Excellent work John!

John also had an interesting observation – “Crows were on and off the chimney many times as I watched. They appeared to look into the chimney but I saw no indication that they went in. Do you think they are a danger to the eggs or chicks?” Chimney Swift nests usually are 10-12′ (or lower) below the rim of a chimney. It would be difficult for a perching crow to reach ‘n’ grab a snack out of the bowl of the nest. Once big birds go into a chimney, either by choice or accident, they usually don’t get out (dead pigeons etc. have been seen in the cleanout traps of many chimneys) and there may be some collateral damage to swift nests on the way to the bottom. However, birds perching on the rim prevent swifts from using the chimney on their own schedule. I have seen pigeons and starlings sit on rims for up to 15 minutes and adult swifts have been put off entering – they veered off and repeated an approach. The drive to feed young is strong, so some swifts will eventually blitz past the intruder during a kamikaze entry. The reverse holds true also – adults may be pinned inside longer than they might normally stay and can blow past a bird on the rim with a meteoric exit. I have never seen a bird of prey sit on a rim, so that may be a game changer. Raccoons inside a chimney could dislodge nests and eat eggs or young juveniles. Pruning tree branches to prevent them from overhanging the chimney opening, and putting metal flashing or a collar around a chimney, helps to keep the pesky mammals out.

Ken, a member of our MCSI steering committee, has been out in Manitou recently. We have not had scouts in this town before. We will have details soon of Ken’s impressive sighting of Chimney Swifts using a site!

Now, other new beginnings start with the hatching of eggs…

There is always something new to learn or to remember that which has been forgotten. While it is useful to use standard date ranges and behaviour activity to identify stages of nesting, the transitions may not be crisp and distinct – that is the swifts may feather (sorry, bad pun intended) the progression between stages of nesting with “iffy” – “I wonder what they are doing now?” activity.

downloadOn Sunday and Monday (July 3 and 4 respectively), I arrived at the Church and NE Club Amical chimneys to discover feeding of hatchlings was underway! WAIT A MINUTE – I thought I was leading the big hatching events by a couple of days. Back to the datasheets: during some monitoring sessions, a few incubation exchanges were evident but unattended periods also were seen. The swifts were not “tight” on their eggs. It became apparent that by using the classic “one partner exchange per hour” rule, I underestimated the onset of incubation by 2 days. Fast forward to the home computer where I pulled up a species account for Chimney Swifts on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site:  “Incubation period: 16-21 days.”  That explained it. Do note the difference between the previously advertised, more widely accepted, range of 18-21 days.

Both pairs of swifts hatched out their eggs in just 16 days. What indicated the presence of hatchlings? It was an increase from the typical 1 entry/exit event per hour seen in incubation, to 2 entry/exit events per hour.

Take a look at the monitoring data for the Church, Sunday July 3, 1:19 – 2:24 PM:

  • 1:27:20 entry
  • 1:28:07 exit
  • 1:56:00 entry
  • 1:56:18 exit
  • 2:20:30 entry
  • 2:21:13 exit

There were intervals of ~28 and 24 minutes between visits (time from an exit to an entry), and very quick partner exchanges (time from an entry to an exit; this is also known as the “turnaround time” or “duration in” interval for single bird entry/exit sequences – more on that below).

Here is what happened at NE Club Amical, Monday July 4, 10:48 – 11:53 AM:

  • 11:01:42 entry
  • 11:02:06 exit
  • 11:17:34 entry
  • 11:19:03 exit
  • 11:49:52 entry
  • 11:50:15 exit

There were intervals of ~ 15 and 30 minutes between visits; partner exchanges took between ~30 – 90 seconds.

Once hatched, the juveniles cannot regulate their body temperature, so they are covered, or brooded, by an adult. This stage of feeding brooded young lasts 6 or 7 days (Day 1 of feeding = day of hatching).

When adults no longer brood their young, both adults can be out of the chimney foraging at the same time. At this stage of feeding non-brooded young, you will see consecutive entries or exits as the adults come and go – there is a lot of variability for the “between visit” and “duration in” intervals. Feeding rates may increase to 3-4 times per hour, or more, if a locally abundant insect patch is available.

At approximately Day 21-22, juveniles move out of the bowl of the nest and cling to the vertical wall. They start to practice flying up and down the shaft of the chimney to strengthen their flight muscles. The time soon comes to move beyond the confines of the nest site.

Fledging occurs at Day 28-30 and, for swifts, is defined as the first aerial excursion outside of the chimney.  I have seen fledging delayed until Day 32 by persistent, high winds. During the first week after fledging, the juveniles will return to the nest site often to rest and be fed by their parents. Thereafter, flight proficiency, and independent feeding skills, develops quickly and the daytime use of the chimney ends.

Elsewhere in St Adolphe, the eggs in two more nests – SE Club Amical and Brodeur Bros. – are due to hatch within several days. I am tracking those sites closely now that I have been reminded of 16 day incubation periods!

A, presumably, young pair finally arrived mid-June at the Main St site. Last week, they seemed close to settling on eggs; incubation exchanges were seen. This week, the two were mostly out of the chimney, racing about town with the characteristic “V” wing position of pair bond displays. The pair may be staking territory out for next year more than trying to settle into a serious breeding attempt this year. Time will tell.

I will provide some monitoring updates to track the progress of the breeding St Adolphe Chimney Swifts during July. The roost site dynamics are important to follow too, so we’ll keep checking in on the non-breeding portion of our Manitoba Chimney Swifts.

Happy Swifting ’til next time, Barb.

We live in interesting times…

Canada Day celebrations ushered out June and the early stages of the Chimney Swift season in Manitoba. Chimney Swift activity shifted noticeably over the past two weeks and it will continue to be dynamic in the upcoming two weeks…
Weather conditions have been unstable and challenging for insectivores. David Philips, a noted meteorologist, “…says Manitoba’s weather has gone from one extreme to the other in a “whiplash effect.” ” (

Feeding is difficult if insect abundance is low and this results from cold temperatures (12 C is the threshold for mosquito activity and, ergo, aerial spraying programs) and sustained rains which wash out aerial plankton = Chimney Swift food. Over the last two weeks, short stretches of warm, sunny days were interrupted by weekend storm events which dumped huge amounts of water in many locations of Manitoba. In the St Adolphe area, over an inch of rain fell June 12; two inches poured down on June 18, then it was followed by another inch on Father’s Day – June 19; the last monsoon event followed with yet another inch of rain over the last weekend of June. Cold fronts with lows under 10 C at night punctuated high temperature/high humidity days.

Rain and cold can bother monitors too, but we have volunteers from hearty stock. Many of you have continued to observe roost and nest sites. New habitat has been identified. Here is an update for mid- to late June:

A special shoutout goes to Gord and Janice in Portage La Prairie. Their personal initiative promoted regional interest in Chimney Swifts as they hosted a Swift Watch which drew 7 new participants out on a lovely, calm evening. During the June 15 event, at the Trinity United Church, six swifts were visible in the air and 2 roosted in the main chimney.

On June 16, David and Adolf checked out St Anne’s Church on Hampton St, in Winnipeg. Another special thank you is sent to them for taking on this special assignment. Last fall, the chimneys were repaired and it was important to know if returning swifts found the sites appropriate for continued use. The answer was YES – “Our arrival at 8:20 was well-timed as we saw 2 exits before the car door had been closed. ”

Ken went out for the evening of June 20, which was a special night. The solstice and full moon coincided. What may have been a coincidental occurrence was the rule-breaking behaviour of the Dauphin Chimney Swifts. After an extra 15 minutes of viewing past the usual end of observation period (so that was 45 minutes after sunset), the 4-6 swifts were still flying about the area “…the swifts did not want to go down the chimney!”

Also on June 20, a group gathered at Assiniboine School, in St James, to share a lovely evening of swift watching and cookie munching. The rule-breaking behaviour theme continued as small numbers of swifts drifted into the chimney starting half-way through the roosting hour. As folks packed up and left 15+ minutes after the end of viewing, birds were still flying about the chimney top. Therefore, our counts of 71 roosting swifts for the night was a minimum. Thanks to Beth and Kathy for keeping their eyes glued to the rim the night of, and Rob for following up with counting swifts on the video footage he took.

Another solstice development took place as Marshall spotted 10 Chimney Swifts swooping around a site on Balmoral St, Winnipeg. Tim checked the site out the next day and identified the Granite Curling Club as active habitat (new site 2016-6) when a swift entered 1 of the 5 chimneys on the roof. Good news for all as this building is listed by the Manitoba Historical Society.

John enjoyed the “nest building, egg laying, incubation” blog which provided the explanation for a rare sighting he made while canoeing on the Seine River at Cabana Ave on June 14. “The swifts were hovering very briefly at the top of a tree with dead branches just as explained in the blog and shown in the photo.” Timing is everything and John was rewarded for being in the right place, at the right time, while watching for the signs!

Adolf, Anna, and Robb were outside Bethel Place, at the Carter and Stafford area of Winnipeg, on the evening of June 21. Distinctive swift vocalization was picked up by Robb’s “young” ears. The group of three observers saw a group of 3 Chimney Swifts in a “2+1” arrangement.

Another June 21 report winged in from Margaret and Millie. Their Brandon site continued to house 2 swifts for the night.

In Selkirk on June 21, the birders club went out to monitor the 6 known sites:
Winona saw 1 swift flying about the East Selkirk Hydro Stack; there were 0 entries/exits;
James, Dorothy, Gerald, and Robert monitored two sites simultaneously: at the Large Stack, 15 swifts were in the air and all 15 entered; viewing the Yellow Brick chimney yielded 0 entries;
Gerald, at the Merchants Hotel, had fewer swifts in the air – 5 flew about and 1 came in for the night;
Sharon and Carol, at the Manitoba Ave site, had 2 exits as their first event (10 min. after arriving). A lot of activity continued over the extended monitoring session (98 min in all) and two swifts roosted for the night;
Robert was kept busy at the Infirmary as over 10 entries and 10 exits took place.

On June 22, Frank & Jacquie went questing swifts again. They scouted out Zhoda then did a roosting hour monitoring session at Woodridge Church. No swifts were in either community. We do value those “0” data points, so thanks for taking to the roads again.

An opportunistic glance to the sky on June 23 led Ryan, Red, and Ken to identify another new site in Souris. The Rock Shop hosted 2 swifts which entered in the morning, so a nest site is suggested. Well done gents! We connected with this news after receiving another new site update (see David’s report below from June 25), so this site was designated 2016-8.

Frank found e-bird news about a sighting in Morden on June 24. Ruth posted “I just saw two Chimney Swifts. The location is just south of the 5th St and South Railway intersection in Morden. For those familiar with Morden, I was at the Western School Division bus compound on South Railway and the birds were flying west.”

Now comes BIG news from one of our big-three roost sites. On June 25, David “…monitored the Assiniboine chimney today for an hour or so. Approx. from 11:30 to 12:30. At 11:45 3 swifts appeared and 1 entered. At 12:01 one swift exited. On 2 more occasions I saw a pair fly over the chimney and even make a bit of a dive towards it but no entry. On one occasion there were 3 swifts flying over the chimney.” On the basis of continued daytime activity, which was first seen by David in late May, Assiniboine School is now classified as a COMBINED NEST AND ROOST SITE = the first in Manitoba. Congratulations David on making the all-important daytime sightings to confirm this status!

By way of explanation, the Kyle’s (the Texan experts) do offer that a nesting pair may take up residence in a chimney that is used at night by roosting swifts. However, you never get more than one breeding pair in any given structure = only 1 nest per chimney.
Yet another new site was identified by David acting on an observation made by Jake (he is the new site magnet of our organization). There is a Portage Ave apartment block, immediately to the east of the Carillon which has a rooftop chimney used by swifts, that has a mostly hidden chimney. David staked out 1780 Portage on the evening of June 25 and saw an entry trajectory for Site No. 2016-7.

On June 27, David noted another daytime entry at Assiniboine School; this event was at 6:50 PM.

Our on-the-road-rovers, Jacquie & Frank, went back to Otterburne for the evening of June 28. There were fewer swifts in the air and more exits this time around. The observations were: Chimney Near the Bell Tower – 1 entry, 1 exit, and 0 roosting; Fat Chimney – 2 entries, 0 exits, 2 roosting; and Skinny Chimney 1 entry, 2 exits, 0 roosting.

David, Adolf, Jake, and Don were out in St James for the night on June 28. At the Assiniboine School, the number of roosting swifts had dropped down to 56; they noted an entry at the Carillon; at new site 1780 Portage, one early entry came in at 8:40 PM.

Margaret and Millie continued to track activity at their site in Brandon. On June 28, 2 swifts arrived mid-way through the roosting hour. It will be interesting to see if nesting activity ramps up or if this pair continue to stake out the territory.

In St Adolphe, pairs were at all 5 nest sites at the end of June. The onset of incubation was staggered: Church – June 19-20; NE Club – June 21-23; pairs settled at both the SE Club and Brodeur Bros. sites June 24-28; and finally, the Main St couple tucked onto their eggs June 28-29.

Two backtracking items close out the June report…

First, Jake has been continuing to check in on the sites he discovered last year. The chimney at 100 Roslyn Rd remains active: June 7 – 2 entries at 9:30; June 9 – 1 exit at 8:50 and 1 entry at 9:00 with 6 swifts in the vicinity; June 10 – 1 entry at 9:30 and 1 entry at 9:31. Unfortunately, activity was not seen at 94 Roslyn Rd on June 8 and 16.

Second, we were fortunate to have the Burrowing Owl team on Chimney Swift duty in Melita for NRMP-4. Cassidy staked out the Legion where 1 swift entered; Aidan saw 2 entries at the Museum; and Jessica recorded 3 entries at the Health Centre. We appreciate Alex, and her team, for taking precious time to help us enumerate Chimney Swifts on June 2 and June 6!

It is time to look ahead to Chimney Swift activities in July. While some birds at roost sites have dispersed – more so in Dauphin than further south in Selkirk and Assiniboine School – many will remain through to the month’s end. Eggs will hatch at nest sites – then the activity intensifies during the day as hungry mouths are filled. Send news of your swifts and we’ll keep in touch as the summer unfolds.

–Barb Stewart


Chimney SwiftWith the arrival of the solstice, comes the arrival of eggs being laid in nests. Chimney Swifts have been in high gear nest building lately, after a slow start to their breeding season. Here is a primer on what has been, and will be, happening inside all of those nest chimneys which you have been monitoring this year.

Renowned Chimney Swift experts, Paul and Georgean Kyle, have published the bible “Chimney Swifts – America’s Mysterious Birds above the Fireplace” (2005;,1868.aspx). By using video cameras in artificial nest towers located in Texas, the Kyle’s have been able to witness the usually hidden activity which goes on below the chimney rim. Much of the following is based on the Kyle’s work. However, the made-in-Manitoba details come from St Adolphe, where monitoring data have been collected from five nest sites since 2007 (see the Stewart & Stewart primary publication links on our MCSI website:

In Manitoba, dead twigs from deciduous tree and ornamental shrub species, such as Manitoba Maple, Green Ash, and Japanese Maple, are used commonly for constructing nests. Chimney Swifts telegraph their collection missions with repetitive flights toward dead branches which have small diameter twigs at the ends. The swifts may be seen “hovering” at branch ends or you may notice branches bouncing after a swift has flown closely by. Swifts use their feet to break off a twig, then transfer the twig to their beak before flying into a nearby nest site.

Using sticky saliva, which is produced in abundance from the salivary glands at this time of year, Chimney Swifts fasten the twigs onto the rough, vertical surface of their nest site. Approximately 265 twigs form the cup-shaped nest which could sit easily in the palm of your hand; there is no fire hazard. The nest is well below the chimney rim to protect the future nestlings from sun, gain maximum protection from rain, and take advantage of the thermal benefits of being enclosed by a building.

How long does it take to make a nest? You will read general comments in species accounts; Cink and Collins, who authored the Chimney Swift chapter in The Birds of North America (published in 2002), say that it takes 18 days, on average, to build a nest but it can take up to 30 days to complete. The Kyle’s found breeding pairs bring in 8-12 twigs to the nest site daily. Simple math suggests that 22-33 days would be required to finish making a 265 twig nest. It is not quite that simple.

Nest building occurs in two stages – the “startup” phase and the “finishing” phase. After spring arrival at their nest site, both adults bring in twigs and start the sticky, construction process. Approximately 7 days later, the newly created nest ledge can accommodate an egg. The time it takes to achieve this milestone depends on whether the pair brings in fewer or greater numbers of twigs each day. Once the ledge is made, the female will produce an egg, every other day, until a clutch of 2-7 eggs has been laid. Amazingly, the breeding pair continues to build their nest around the eggs. This finishing phase is precarious and the accidental loss of eggs, which have been inadvertently nudged over the edge, does happen! Twig placement also continues through the next stage of nesting, the incubation of the eggs. Incubation begins with the second last egg laid and continues for 18-21 days.

So, you get the idea that there is variation in the total length of nest building as it is intimately linked to the onset of egg laying, final clutch size, and the duration of incubation. However, one thing is certain. Once the eggs hatch, all nest building stops and the task of feeding the juveniles becomes the top priority.

Back to St Adolphe this spring…no breeding pairs had started incubating eggs by June 18th. However, on the morning of June 20, the Church pair were at the incubation stage. How do I know? As there are no video cameras inside the five nest sites, I have to let the swift’s behaviour “tell me” what they are doing…

Daytime monitoring data helps decode the Chimney Swift activity inside the nest site. The frequency, and sequence, of entries and exits can identify the various stages of nesting (Stewart and Stewart, 2010).

During nest building, the breeding pair may be out of the chimney together or they may be inside together. You could see 2 consecutive entries or 2 consecutive exits. Sometimes, just one adult is in the chimney. You may see a closely flying pair approach the chimney – 1 swift will drop in while it’s partner flies off; after a time lag, a single exit will ensue. The duration spent inside the chimney by an individual can vary between 1 and 70 minutes, while the between-visit intervals can range from 1 to 50 minutes.

The activity at a nest site slows down during incubation and is more predictable. Incubation is a shared duty too and one adult usually is in the chimney covering the eggs. However, eggs may be unattended briefly during the day or as both adults make final feeding excursions just before roosting for the night. Admittedly, it is a deadly boring stage of nesting to monitor! Typically, partners will exchange their places on the eggs once per hour. That means a whole lot of rim-staring to see a quick, silent entry and an equally silent exit made within a couple of minutes.

Now is the time to start watching for the shift between nest building behaviour to incubation exchanges by partners. Progress reports of the St Adolphe flock will help guide the interpretation of activity at your nest sites. Stay tuned for updates!

Many thanks to Dave Lavigne ( for providing the stunning photos of Goderich, ON, Chimney Swifts and to Rob Stewart, who photographed the 2015 Brodeur Bros. nest.

CHIMNEY SWIFTS HOVERING NEAR DEAD BRANCHES – “I noticed a few birds flying into a tree…Sometimes they would hover, in typical swift style (meaning, they hovered for about 5 microseconds!). As you can see, the top of this tree is dead, and I wondered if they were looking for twigs? Didn’t see any actually take one..)”

Swifts near dead branches


Swift with twig


MCSI 2016 - BRODEUR BROS 2015 NEST ROB front view DSCN3674
Chimney Swift Nest, St Adolphe MB 

Barb Stewart
St. Adolphe Monitor & MCSI Steering Committee Initiative Member



You’re invited to a viewing on Monday!

For the past 3 years, Assiniboine School in St James has been the place to see Chimney Swifts in Manitoba. With roosting numbers upwards of 150 birds, it provides a spectacle for anyone with even a vague interest in swifts. Although numbers have been dropping since the peak earlier this spring, we are inviting anyone interested to join the local volunteer team plus Frank our webmaster, Steering Committee members Rob and Barb Stewart and Outreach Coordinator Tim to watch the birds enter for the night on Monday evening, June 20 th, beginning at 8:40. We will meet outside the school on Winston Road. Please bring a chair or blanket to sit on, plus anything you need to keep comfortable. There will also be opportunities to ask any of your burning swift questions.
And just to whet your appetite, if you haven’t already, please take a look at the video posted from the school recently:
Tim Poole