Chimney Swift in flight

The chittering sounds of the Chimney Swift will return to Wisconsin from mid-April to early May as the birds return from their winter homes in South America. While migrating through the state, large numbers can be found in the early evenings -- ready to roost in brick chimneys. Some will stay in the area to breed, and others will go farther north.

“Springtime is an excellent opportunity to gauge swifts' population numbers and help assess trends for this species,” said Barbara Duerksen, member of the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group, a statewide volunteer effort to keep swifts common in Wisconsin. “Counting swifts is important, because their numbers are declining. We’ve been doing this for years in the fall, but we’re now encouraging folks to be watching and counting in the spring as well.”

Unfortunately, according to the latest North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Chimney Swift population has declined by 72% in the past 50 years. By continuing to monitor these populations, the working group hopes to learn more about them and identify important roost sites, so ways to protect them can be found.

“Everyday people like you and me can count Chimney Swifts as they enter chimneys in the early evening. It’s a simple process; you don’t need to be a bird expert to do this. All you need to do is count.”

In addition to being valuable and fun, a spring count 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.

Here's how to help with the spring count:

  1. Watch and listen for Chimney Swifts during the daytime as they hunt for insects to determine when to begin counting. The lower half of the state may see the birds from late April to early May. Swifts may reach the upper half of the state a little later.
  2. Look for tall brick chimneys that are uncapped. If you find more than one chimney, do some scouting in the evenings to determine where the swifts will roost. Watch for swifts swooping over the chimney for a while before they enter. Be aware that the roost site choice can change from night to night, especially during migration.
  3. Pick one or more nights to monitor in May. Larger numbers show up two or three weeks after the first swifts arrive.
  4. Observe the roost from about 20 minutes before sunset until 10 minutes after the last swift enters the chimney. Please stay in one location, even if you do not see swifts right away. They may come to your site later, and you do not want to miss them. To be sure, stay 30 minutes after sunset to know if the chimney was active or not. If you have zero swifts in your chimney, please record this; this is still valuable information.
  5. 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. A hand-held clicker counter can be helpful.
  6. Counts could continue at the large chimneys throughout the breeding season, if large numbers of individuals continue to use these roost sites.

You can help the working group access and utilize your data by entering it on eBird. When prompted for location, map your roost site to an exact address or point. After you enter the number of Chimney Swifts, please use the hash tag #swiftwi in the Chimney Swift details section. This step helps working group members access your information quickly.

You can also take it a step further by adding information in the Chimney Swift details section. Please do so in this exact order, with semicolons separating the data: #swiftwi; the type of building (residence, school, church, business, hospital, apartment, swift tower/structure, etc.); the condition of the chimney (in good shape; in need of repair); any other notes (for example: #swiftwi; residence; chimney in need of repair; any other notes).

“It’s pretty easy for anyone to identify a Chimney Swift: They have slender bodies, with long, curved wings and a short, tapered tail -- they look like a flying cigar,” said Duerksen. They fly rapidly, often twisting from side to side and banking erratically. They also give a distinctive, high chittering call while in flight. Chimney Swifts are the only bird that will roost in a chimney, dropping inside at dusk and emerging the next morning.

More information about Chimney Swifts and how to help protect them locally is available from the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group.

 

Read more:

Chimney swifts are disappearing in Wisconsin; fixing up your home is one way to help (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 14, 2020)

Resources for Chimney sweeps and masons

Chimney Swift (All About Birds)

Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group

Bird City Wisconsin recognition criteria

 

Pringle Nature Center Acopian BirdSaver

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 December, we described how New London used its small grant to create a fun citywide educational project featuring colorful cutouts of the swallows featured in the Bird City Wisconsin logo.

In January, we described how the Mequon Nature Preserve and the City of Mequon, a Bird City since 2010 and a High Flyer, used its grant to replace nest boxes used to monitor bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and House Wrens.

In this issue, we tell what the Pringle Nature Center and Kenosha County, a Bird City since 2014, accomplished with their 2021 grant.

Barry Thomas, the nature center's board chair, reports that the funds supported two free educational programs aimed at preventing the No. 1 source of human-caused bird mortality in the United States -- bird-window collisions.

As many as a billion birds die after hitting windows in the United States and Canada every year, say researchers from the Smithsonian's Migratory Bird Center and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Only predation by free-roaming cats kills more birds every year.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the greatest mortality does not occur at gleaming, glass-covered high-rises but at shorter buildings, and especially at residences. This means that homeowners across the country have a great opportunity: By decreasing the number of birds that strike their windows, they can dramatically improve the state of our birds, hence the importance of the center's grant-supported efforts.

The first program took place at the center’s annual Fall Fun Fest and World Migratory Bird Day celebration in September. Rick Fare, a director of Racine's Hoy Audubon Society, staffed a booth where he discussed threats to migratory birds and gave visitors reflective window decals to affix to the exterior of their home windows. Attendance at the festival was estimated at 350.

The second program took place on September 29, at one of the center's monthly "Pringle Talks" sessions, where attendees heard a presentation by Fare and Thomas on preventing bird-window collisions and then constructed their own Acopian BirdSavers.

Also known as "zen wind curtains," Acopian BirdSavers are a very simple but a highly effective method of deterring bird-window collisions. They consist of lengths of dark-colored 1/8" diameter parachute cord that are suspended about three or four inches apart on the exterior of windows, creating an attractive pattern of parallel lines that birds see and avoid.

You can order BirdSavers, or find instructions for making your own, on the Acopian BirdSavers website. You can find additional resources for avoiding bird-window collisions on this website.

Thomas reports that Acopian BirdSavers and UV window decals were also installed on Pringle Nature Center windows.

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.

 

Read more:

Resources for Avoiding Bird-Window Collisions

Learn more about Acopian BirdSavers

Pringle Nature Center

Bird City Grant Funds New Nest Boxes for Beleaguered Bluebirds

Bird City Grant Populates New London with Colorful Cutout Birds

Read about our 2020 granteesRead about our 2020 granteesRead about our 2020 grantees.

 

World Migratory Bird Day Light Pollution

“Dim the Lights for Birds at Night!” has been selected as the official slogan for the 2022 edition of the U.N.-backed global World Migratory Bird Day campaign. This year’s focus is on the impacts of light pollution on migratory birds.

Communities recognized by Bird City Wisconsin are obligated to hold an annual event celebrating World Migratory Bird Day.

“World Migratory Bird Day 2022 is not only about raising awareness on the negative effects of light pollution on migratory birds. We also hope the campaign will trigger concrete commitments and pledges from... key stakeholders across the world,” says Amy Fraenkel, executive secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The convention is the only global convention specializing in the conservation of migratory species, their habitats, and their migration routes. An environmental treaty of the United Nations, the convention lays the legal foundation for internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout a migratory range.

The aim of World Migratory Bird Day is to raise awareness of light pollution in May and initiate concrete actions to tackle the problem in October. Best-practice guidelines are currently being developed to address the issue and ensure that action is taken globally to help birds migrate safely.

Artificial light is increasing globally by at least 2 percent per year, and it is known to harm many bird species. Light pollution is a significant threat to migratory birds, disorienting them when they fly at night, leading to collisions with buildings, interfering with their internal clocks, and interfering with their ability to undertake long-distance migrations.

“This year’s campaign highlights the impacts of the increasing but underestimated threat of light pollution on migratory birds," says Jacques Trouvilliez, executive secretary of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds. "'Dim the Lights for Birds at Night’ sends a simple but strong message that we need to act collectively to curb the use of unnecessary light at night so that we can reduce the negative impact it has on migratory birds."

The migratory waterbirds agreement was developed under the framework of the Convention on Migratory Species and is administered by the United Nations Environment Program. The agreement is an intergovernmental treaty dedicated to the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats across Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, Greenland, and the Canadian Archipelago.

Making windows safer, day and night, is at the top of the Cornell Lab's list of seven simple actions you can take to help birds.

Solutions to light pollution are readily available. For instance, more and more cities in the world are taking measures to dim building lights during migration in spring and autumn. Further information will be made available on the World Migratory Bird Day website throughout the year.

Five actions you can take to help birds at night

Event organizers in Bird Cities are encouraged to start thinking of ways to incorporate the theme of light pollution and the slogan into activities being planned for World Migratory Bird Day.

 

Read more:

Five Actions to Help Birds at Night

World Migratory Bird Day

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds

Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds

 

Globe at Night Program

Making windows safer, day and night, is at the top of the Cornell Lab's list of seven simple actions you can take to help birds.

World Migratory Bird Day 2022 is focusing on the impacts of light pollution on our shared birds. Here are a few simple actions you can take to help birds at night.

1. Reduce the amount of light outside your home or place of business.

Turn off all nonessential nighttime lights. For essential lights, use timers or motion detectors to keep usage to a minimum. And always use the minimum wattage necessary for the task at hand. This helps save energy and money too!

2. Change the color of your lights from cool to warm.

Studies suggest that green and blue light attracts more birds than red, orange, or yellow light. Use lightbulbs that emit warm light to minimize disturbance to birds. Light color is measured in Kelvins -- the lower the number, the warmer the light.

3. Direct all lighting downward.

Direct lights to illuminate the floor or ground, and use lighting shields to prevent shining into the sky.

4. Advocate for bird-friendly lighting in your community.

Consider working with your local government to create a lighting ordinance or to enforce or improve existing guidelines.

5. Become a community scientist.

Measure the brightness of your night sky, and submit your observations to the Globe at Night Program. Globe at Night is a program of National Science Foundation's NOIRLab, the preeminent US national center for ground-based, nighttime optical and infrared astronomy, which is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. All you need to participate is a computer or smartphone.

 

Read more:

WMBD Theme: Dim the Lights for Birds at Night!

World Migratory Bird Day

Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds

Globe at Night

 

Nest Box Installation Mequon Nature Preserve

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 our December 2021 issue, we described how New London used its small grant to create a fun citywide educational project featuring colorful cutouts of the swallows featured in the Bird City Wisconsin logo.

In this issue, we tell what the Mequon Nature Preserve and the City of Mequon, a Bird City since 2010 and a High Flyer, accomplished with its 2021 grant.

According to Nick Gall, Ecological Restoration Manager at the Mequon Nature Preserve, the funds were used to replace 10 of the 56 nest boxes that he and his team at the preserve use to monitor cavity-nesting Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and House Wrens.

The new shelters replaced boxes that had been on the 510-acre property for two decades and were in disrepair, Gall reports. They are located along a transect that passes through various habitats of restored prairie, wetlands, and shrubland ecosystems.

Preserve staff members were unable to install the new boxes until the middle of July, Gall reported, too late for them to be used during the 2021 breeding season but in plenty of time to welcome returnees this spring.

The number of bluebirds fledged in the 2021 season decreased 66 percent from 2020, he said, while Tree Swallow fledglings decreased 19 percent. Bluebirds used 18 of the 56 nest boxes monitored, fledging 32 young. Tree Swallows used 30 boxes and fledged 114 young. House Wrens occupied 12 boxes and fledged 67 wrens.

“Lower nesting individual and fledgling numbers could be a result of either a late snowstorm that caught individuals migrating through the lower Midwest,” Gall explained, “or a substantial drought throughout the region that increased ant infestation in nest boxes.”

“This is particularly true of the nest boxes that were replaced through this grant, as these older boxes had wooden posts with constant ant infestations.”

The new nest boxes, by contrast, are mounted on predator-proof poles that should hinder future ant infestations.

Gall says that staff and volunteers from the preserve’s Bluebird Club look forward to monitoring the new boxes in 2022 and noting the change in usage from the previous boxes.

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.

Read more:

Bird City Grant Populates New London with Colorful Cutout Birds

Read about our 2021 grantees.

Mequon Nature Preserve

Read more about the City of Mequon, a High Flyer.