By Claire Marshall, Aerial Insectivore Field Technician
This summer, our Aerial Insectivore Technicians have spent a lot of time hanging around chimneys at sunset, observing Chimney Swift activity in the Greater Toronto Area and confirming whether various historic sites may count as “critical habitat” for this declining species. But that’s not all they have been up to!
One of the goals for our Aerial Insectivore Conservation Program is to connect with the community and build relationships with our next door neighbors, and that’s exactly what the Ontario SwiftWatch team has made a priority this field season.
From meeting with municipalities across Ontario to encourage the inclusion of NatureCounts data collected by SwiftWatch volunteers into their permitting processes, to collaborating with local environmental organizations like the High Park Nature Centre and hosting bird walks with folks wanting to learn more about the fantastic wildlife flying amongst us – our team is showing that conservation efforts succeed when integrative solutions are used to advance the mission of Birds Canada to drive action that increases the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of birds in Canada
Aerial Insectivore Technician Gabriel Evans-Cook hands out binoculars to bird walk attendees at High Park. Credit: Claire Marshall
The first of these bird walks included a crowd of summer camp kids. Though hardly three feet tall, these young bird enthusiasts were able to name every single owl that has been seen in High Park. Aerial insectivore crew, Gabriel and Claire, had the pleasure of teaching this group about urban habitat, and how important structures are for birds, including bridges for Barn Swallows, nest boxes for Purple Martins, and chimneys for Chimney Swifts. The walk culminated in a stop near the wetlands, where swallows were seen foraging over the water, with the chattering of Purple Martins in the background. Gabriel and Claire pointed across the large Grenadier Pond, asking the group what chimney looks better for the swifts, the one on the left with a big metal liner sticking out, or the beautiful brick chimney on the right with an open top – a collective “RIGHT!” rang through the air, and sure enough, right they were.
Flash forward to a few weeks later when a slightly taller, and equally excited, group of both novice and skilled bird watchers gathered at High Park to take the very same path the children had walked. As soon as Gabriel and Claire began to introduce themselves to the attendees, the Chimney Swifts gliding above stole the spotlight, and the crowd gazed upwards onto the family of swifts grazing for insects as the evening sky began to fall. The timing was perfect, and the swifts set the mood for a lovely walk with folks more interested in looking up then around for other species to see in the park.
A Barn Swallow perches on a lighting fixture. Credit: Claire Marshall
Amidst bird watching and walking along the scenic path of High Park, Gabriel and Claire held some big conversations about chimneys, urban habitat, gardening for birds, and the crucial role citizen science plays in learning about and protecting biodiversity. Several folks left the bird walk saying they were looking forward to signing up for SwiftWatch, and to watch chimneys around their own neighborhood for Chimney Swift presence.
Just as our Technicians will say, once you hear Chimney Swifts and learn to recognize them soaring and dancing in the sky, you will begin to see and hear them everywhere you go. That is of course until they begin their fall migration down to South America, where they will be staying until next spring comes along.
While Chimney Swift outreach events are coming to a close after a busy and fulfilling summer, we look forward to what next summer brings and are grateful for all of the kindness and support the community has offered the SwiftWatch program this summer. This awareness of a species on the decline brings forth hope that, from small homeowners and businesses, to bigger residential, commercial, and municipal groups, we may step forward in protecting what habitat remains for the charismatic, chattering swift that is (definitely biased) one of Ontario’s favourite summer residents.
Learn more about SwiftWatch at https://www.birdscanada.org/bird-science/swiftwatch.