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Help Audubon count chimney swifts, a declining species

Volunteers throughout Minnesota are needed to participate in the First Annual Audubon Minnesota Chimney Swift Sit for about an hour on any evening on Sept. 11-13.

This event will enable Audubon to better understand the distribution of Chimney Swifts in Minnesota. Information provided by participants will help us identify the structures used by these birds whose populations are in decline and will help us in our efforts to preserve their roosting sites.

Chimney Swifts are often referred to as "flying cigars" because of their short, stout bodies and long, pointed wings. Their flight is rapid with swept-back wings. Although they are only about five inches long and weigh less than an ounce they have a wingspan of up to 12 inches. These swifts breed across much of eastern North America and winter in the Amazon Basin.

Chimney Swifts have long claw-like feet and stiff bristles on their tails that are used to cling to rough vertical surfaces making chimneys ideal for nesting and roosting. Hundreds, or even thousands, of swifts may roost in a single structure as they prepare for migration to South America.

"Changes in heating methods, chimney construction, and maintenance have now greatly reduced the availability of nesting sites for swifts," said Ron Windingstad of Audubon Minnesota. "Most of the modern chimneys are constructed with metal liners that lack the rough surfaces swifts need for roosting or attaching their nests. Caps put on the traditional chimneys further block swifts from many of their previously available nest/roost sites."

As a result of these trends, Chimney Swifts have declined by about 50 percent over the last forty years according to the annual National Biological Survey.

Participants are asked to watch for areas where swifts are feeding at dusk a few days prior to conducting the counts. (Look for a chimney, a tall shaft, or similar structure to locate where Chimney Swifts roost in your area.) On one of the evenings of the Swift Sit, observe the roost about a half hour before, and 15 minutes after sunset and count or estimate, the number of swifts that enter the structure.

Numbers of swifts at these structures may vary from just a few to several hundred depending on the site. Chimney Swift Sit participation forms are available at to help participants record key information (date, time, number of swifts, location, type of building and structure being used).

Information should be sent to Ron Windingstad, at, Audubon Minnesota, 2357 Ventura Drive, Suite 106, St. Paul MN 55125, or fax 651-731-1330 by Sept. 27.

If you cannot participate in the Sit but know places where Chimney Swifts might be roosting, please contact rwindingstad@