ambience: Vaux’s Swifts, children
In the late spring and early fall, students and faculty at the Chapman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, get a special surprise – a chimney full of swifts. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
For over ten years, thousands of Vaux’s Swifts have chosen the school’s furnace as a migratory stopover. Keith Robillard is a graduate student in biology at Portland State University. He’s been investigating why these small, protected migratory birds use the elementary school’s chimney to roost.
“It’s a substitute for historically what they have used, they are old, large hollowed out trees, old growth trees, that are basically dead and have been hollowed out mostly from Indian paintbrush, which happens to be a fungus. So it’s hollowed out. It would take years for that to happen. Unfortunately, a lot of trees aren’t around a long enough for that to happen.”
The Vaux’s Swifts prefer brick chimneys for a good reason.
“Bricks have air pockets when they form, when they make them. They have little indentations, and so those help the swifts hold on to them, they can grab onto the pockets. It’s basically rough.”
Bob McAllister is the principal at the Chapman Elementary School.
“This is a very unique bird, and they’ve become kind of a tradition in northwest Portland. Just the number of people that come down and watch them in the evening demonstrates that.”
The local Audobon Society has helped raise funds to make the furnace usable by both birds and humans on colder days. The Vaux’s Swifts’ annual visit has become part of the Chapman Elementary school’s science curriculum and the birds have even been made the school’s official mascot.
Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.