Conservation group calls for volunteers to track, observe threatened chimney swift

New Brunswick

Maritimes SwiftWatch, a citizen-run program of science monitoring and conservation, is calling for volunteers to track and observe chimney swifts arriving in New Brunswick this time of year.

Chimney swifts will spend the next couple of weeks looking for a place to build their nests after returning to the Maritimes from their wintering spots in South America.(Tim Poole)

Maritimes SwiftWatch, a citizen-run program of science monitoring and conservation, is calling for volunteers to track and observe chimney swifts arriving in New Brunswick this time of year.

Since the 1970s, the chimney swift population has "plummeted" by about 90 per cent. The birds are classified as threatened because of habitat loss.

"They're not doing well," said Allison Manthorne, co-ordinator of Maritimes SwiftWatch.

SwitftWatch volunteers in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia go out every spring and visit sites known to be favoured by chimney swifts. They're also looking for new sites.

The conservation program aims to protect those areas "as much as possible."

"They're helping us engage with landowners to steward and protect those sites."

Manthorne said tracking and observing will help the organization have a better understanding as to why the birds are disappearing.

Manthorne said there are about 10 roosting spots and 70 nest sites across the province.

Chimney swifts, small grey birds with acrobatic flying skills, are mostly seen high in the sky, scooping insects with their long pointed wings, large eyes and beaks.

"They can zip around and chase insects," she said.

Usual habitat shrinking

Centuries ago, hollow trees, such as sugar maples and white pines, were the main habit of chimney swift. But their food source is also dwindling.

Since that type of forest is not as prevalent, the birds have started nesting in chimneys.

"The more you pull on one thread, the more you realize everything is interconnected," she said.

The birds eventually started nesting in chimneys, but even these aren't what they once were.

For years, the chimney swift population has suffered because of a loss of habitat.(Ron d’Entremont)

"Chimneys are not being used in the same way that we used to," she said.

The large roosting spots for chimney swifts are scattered around New Brunswick. One on McLeod Avenue in Fredericton, has sometimes looked like a tourist attraction as people gather to watch thousands of birds flocking together over the building before heading down the chimney.

Across the region, however, many chimneys are being retrofitted and torn down. And a lot of homeowners are relying on other heating technologies such as baseboard heating.

"These birds are really facing a double whammy." she said. "They're losing their natural habitat and they're also losing their more modern, human-built habitat."

A place to call home

Chimney swifts, also known as flying cigars, typically look for brick chimneys that are at least a foot wide.

"One that's not used for heating and fires anymore, obviously," she said.

Manthorne said the birds are loyal to their original habitat sites, if they're still there when they return from their wintering spots in South America.

They prefer chimneys that don't have any sort of metal liner because they can be slippery and dangerous.

Baby Chimney Swifts living in a small nest.(SwiftWatch)

She said the birds also want somewhere quiet dark to create their nests and raise their young.

Chimney swifts are also considered aerial birds. As soon as the sun comes up, they leave the chimney and fly all day in search of food.

Unlike other birds, chimney swifts don't perch.

"They kind of cling to the wall like a woodpecker."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

    With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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