Chimney Swifts drop into a chimney at dusk

This article was submitted by the 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.

The 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 birdwatchers 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 the declining federally protected species.

Golden opportunity for Bird Cities

In addition to being valuable and fun, counting swifts represents a golden opportunity for Bird Cities and communities that would like to be recognized as a Bird Cities to satisfy one of the program's recognition criteria. Communities can do this either by sharing the results of Chimney Swift counts or other organized bird monitoring in the local park system (Category 1: Habitat Creation, Protection, and Monitoring), or by demonstrating that the community is represented in a citizen science bird-monitoring program such as a Swift Night Out (Category 4: Public Education).

See Bird City's recognition criteria.

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 the 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 US Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve swift chimneys in need of repair through a cost-share program. The Vernon County Historical Society was able to 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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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 to which the birds can cling, 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 percent in the last 50 years. Specific reasons for the loss are unknown, but pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss all play a role.

How to recognize and count swifts:

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 from 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 the birds 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, visit the website of the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group.

 

Read more:

Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group

About Chimney Swifts

Vernon County Historical Museum


 

Bird City Wisconsin Logo

What’s the most important step you can take right now to help Wisconsin’s birds and Bird City Wisconsin? You can update your community’s contact information.

It’s easy to do: Simply send an email to Bird City's Director (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) containing the name, job title, phone number, and email address of your community’s Bird City representative (or representatives).

Who’s that? Your Bird City rep is the point person for your community’s Bird City effort. He or she is our eyes and ears for what’s happening in your neck of the woods, and especially for what’s happening to your birds.

Usually, your rep is the person who has log-in privileges on our website and handles applications and renewals and adds events to our online calendar. He or she is also the person we turn to if we have questions, and he or she is the recipient of our occasional renewal reminders, meeting announcements, and news.

Most important, your community’s representative is the person who makes Bird City Wisconsin a player in consequential statewide conversations about birds. By uniting more than 100 recognized communities, the program can function as a powerful advocate for birds -- this is a chief benefit of being recognized as a Bird City -- but we can speak meaningfully for your community only if we know who your rep is.

Please send your up-to-date contact information today!

 

Bird City Wisconsin Small Grant Lincoln High School Students

In June 2021, Bird City Wisconsin awarded small grants to six Bird City communities: Kenosha County, Manitowish Waters, Mequon, New London, Whitewater, and Wisconsin Rapids.

Elsewhere we described how New London, the City of Mequon, Kenosha County, and Manitowish Waters used their small grants. In this issue, we tell what the City of Wisconsin Rapids, a High Flyer and a Bird City since 2013, accomplished with its 2021 grant.

Bird City Wisconsin Rapids rep Clara Kubisiak says Bird City Wisconsin Rapids and students used the award to help revitalize a prairie adjacent to the Lincoln High School woodlot. Teachers at the high school use the woodlot and prairie in their environmental education classes, and a variety of birds nest in the woodlot and visit it while migrating.

Bird City’s grant funded the purchase of Pollinator Palooza, a mix of seeds of native species that produce not only nectar but also the habitat required by bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Prairie Moon Nursery sells the mix in cooperation with the nonprofit Xerces Society.

The school’s revitalization effort started in October 2021, Kubisiak reports, when five students spread the seed mix in the prairie woodlot. Work continued this spring, when Bird City Wisconsin Rapids planted coreopsis, liatris, and columbine, and students in a class taught by Jeremy Radtke, an agriculture education instructor at Lincoln High School, added anise hyssop, wild blue indigo, little bluestem, and black-eyed Susans. The flowers will augment the large clusters of lupine that, according to Kubisiak, were already growing on the site in May.

Kubisiak says the prairie was established a few years ago, when buckthorn, honeysuckle bushes, and other invasive plant species were removed, and a kiosk was added.

Bird City Wisconsin Rapids plans to use the kiosk to educate city residents on the value of prairie plants and how to identify them. “We would like people to understand how the long root structures aid plants in dry weather conditions,” Kubisiak says.

This was the second year that Bird City Wisconsin awarded small grants, which are available to Bird City communities only. The grants are intended to kickstart local projects that help Bird City communities create and protect bird habitat, educate residents about positive interactions between birds and people, and reduce threats to birds.

In 2021, in addition to the work done in Wisconsin Rapids, Manitowish Waters improved bird habitat and an education station at the North Lakeland Discovery Center. New London created a fun citywide educational project featuring colorful cutouts of the swallows featured in the Bird City Wisconsin logo. The Mequon Nature Preserve and the City of Mequon used its grant to replace nest boxes used to monitor bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and House Wrens. And the Pringle Nature Center and Kenosha County conducted free educational programs aimed at preventing bird-window collisions.

Descriptions of projects funded by Bird City Wisconsin in 2020, the first year it awarded small grants, can be found on the Bird City website.

 

Read more:

2021 Small Grants Awarded to Six Communities

Bird City Grant Helps Prevent Bird-Window Collisions

Bird City Grant Funds New Nest Boxes for Beleaguered Bluebirds

Bird City Grant Populates New London with Colorful Cutout Birds

Northwoods Feeding and Education Station Improved with Bird City Grant

Read about our 2020 grantees.

View or download past issues of our newsletter.

Donate to Bird City Wisconsin.

 

Great Wisconsin Birdathon 2022 $117,000 Raised

This article was written by Caitlyn Schuchhardt, Outreach Coordinator, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

Another record-breaking season for the Great Wisconsin Birdathon is in the books, thanks to the dedication and commitment of Wisconsin’s birding community.

This annual fundraiser for the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin unites bird lovers from across the state in a shared mission to support Wisconsin’s most critical and high-priority bird conservation projects. And, wow, did our birders show up this year! Our 56 teams raised $117,000 for the foundation’s Bird Protection Fund. That’s 17% above our goal!

This money was raised by families and friends who share a love of birds, by children and classrooms eager to learn about Wisconsin’s diverse number of species, by bird clubs out to make a difference, by nonprofit organizations looking to give back, and by dedicated birders like you who care deeply about bird conservation in Wisconsin. We’re so grateful to everyone who birded with us and those who donated in support of our campaign.

This season was extra special because the Great Wisconsin Birdathon has been around for a decade since its pilot year launch in 2012. The best way we could imagine celebrating this milestone is to do just what our birders did -- raise as much as we can for the birds we love.

Speaking of those birds we love, what did our teams find? Birding in 36 counties, our 56 teams found 250 species!

Four teams were lucky enough to spot our Bird of the Year, the Whooping Crane. Congrats to Cutright’s Old Coots, Millennial Falcons, I’m With the Birds, and the Horicon Marsh Wrens on this special find! Teams also found rare species, including the elusive Yellow Rail. A handful of teams reported this species, but the intrepid Lake Superior eBirders found not one but three of them!

The Good Godwits also rounded up a Black-bellied Whistling Duck and a Western Kingbird. The Scan da Avians found a Cattle Egret, Yes We Pelican! members of the Feminist Bird Club snagged a Loggerhead Shrike, and the GLC Chickadees made sure that Sheboygan’s celebrated Harlequin Ducks were represented. The combined species list includes 33 considered to be of Special Concern in Wisconsin, nine considered Threatened, and eight considered Endangered.

View the full list and enjoy bird photos submitted by our teams.

If you’re eager for more Birdathon stories, check out our Facebook page (@WIBirdathon) for team recaps and birder spotlights highlighting folks who have been birding with us for a decade -- such as Bird City Wisconsin’s Carl Schwartz, whose Cutright’s Old Coots team (@HawkeyeAndTheAncientMurrelets) topped the charts again with $18,400 raised for the birds. Incredible!

At its heart, this event is a fundraiser for bird conservation. But Wisconsin’s birding community has made it more than that. Thank you for helping us support Wisconsin’s birds while also growing and strengthening Wisconsin’s birding community!

P.S. The Great Wisconsin Birdathon will return next spring! Stay tuned for an update this fall, when we will announce the next Bird Protection Fund projects that will benefit from these funds.

 

Read more:

2022 Species List

Great Wisconsin Birdathon

Great Wisconsin Birdathon on Facebook

Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin

 

North Lakeland Discovery Center Bird City Small Grant

In June 2021, Bird City Wisconsin awarded small grants to six Bird City communities: Kenosha County, Manitowish Waters, Mequon, New London, Whitewater, and Wisconsin Rapids.

In past issues of the newsletter, we described how New London, the City of Mequon, and Kenosha County used their small grants. In this issue, we tell what the Town of Manitowish Waters, a High Flyer and a Bird City since 2010, accomplished with its 2021 grant.

Mark Westphal, president of the North Lakeland Discovery Center Bird Club, tells us that the award helped the club improve bird habitat and an education station on the campus of the North Lakeland Discovery Center in Manitowish Waters, in Vilas County.

The station was created over a decade ago not only to provide quality habitat for Northwoods birds but also to give schoolchildren and other visitors to the Discovery Center up-close opportunities to observe bird behavior and banding demonstrations.

The bird club worked with a landscape designer and a retired Wisconsin DNR wildlife biologist and master bird bander to develop a plan to offer birds year-round cover, food, and water.

"Funds provided by the Bird City grant have been used to purchase 10 shrubs, including pagoda dogwood, arrowwood viburnum, common witch hazel, and Viburnum lantana 'Mohican,' aka wayfaring tree," says Westphal. "These plants have been placed in a central focal point near the bird feeding station."

In addition, bird feeders were rearranged and adjusted to make them easier for volunteers to fill and maintain. A cable system raises the feeders beyond the reach of the region's typically opportunistic bears.

The centerpiece of the feeding station, Westphal explains, is a new water feature. Employing creativity, ingenuity, and plenty of muscle, bird club members (pictured) fashioned a cascading stream and small ponds from several hundred pounds of selected rocks. An underground holding tank with a circulating pump allows for the continuous flow of water.

The area around the new water feature will be planted with plants and flowers chosen to benefit birds and pollinators. "We are also planning to provide nearby seating," Westphal reports, "so that visitors can relax and enjoy watching the bird feeders and the activity generated by the new plants and water structure."

This was the second year that Bird City Wisconsin, a program of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory in Port Washington, awarded small grants, which are available to Bird City communities only.

The grants are intended to kickstart local projects that help Bird City communities create and protect bird habitat, educate residents about the many positive interactions between birds and people, and reduce threats to birds.

In 2021, in addition to the work done in Manitowish Waters, New London created a fun citywide educational project featuring colorful cutouts of the swallows featured in the Bird City Wisconsin logo. The Mequon Nature Preserve and the City of Mequon used its grant to replace nest boxes used to monitor bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and House Wrens. And the Pringle Nature Center and Kenosha County conducted free educational programs aimed at preventing bird-window collisions.

Descriptions of projects funded by Bird City Wisconsin in 2020 can be found on the Bird City website.

 

Read more:

North Lakeland Discovery Center

2021 Small Grants Awarded to Six Communities

Bird City Grant Helps Prevent Bird-Window Collisions

Bird City Grant Funds New Nest Boxes for Beleaguered Bluebirds

Bird City Grant Populates New London with Colorful Cutout Birds

Read about our 2020 grantees.

View or download past issues of our newsletter.

Donate to Bird City Wisconsin.