Top News

Locals promoting chimney swift roost site in Middleton

Bonnie Johnson and Claire Diggins can often be spotted counting chimney swifts at the Middleton Regional High School as part of an ongoing effort to track the species that is considered endangered in Nova Scotia, and threatened in other parts of the country.
Bonnie Johnson and Claire Diggins can often be spotted counting chimney swifts at the Middleton Regional High School as part of an ongoing effort to track the species that is considered endangered in Nova Scotia, and threatened in other parts of the country.

MIDDLETON - There’s a rare spectacle to behold at the Middleton Regional High School.

The school is a roosting site for chimney swifts, a bird species that is considered endangered in Nova Scotia.

The school is a roosting site for chimney swifts, a bird species that is considered endangered in Nova Scotia.

“Middleton is probably the best place to look for swifts in the Annapolis Valley,” says Allison Manthorne, the Maritimes SwiftWatch Coordinator for Bird Studies Canada.

The Kempt-based Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute’s website lists the nine known roosting sights in the province as St. Bernard, Bear River, Middleton, Wolfville, Falmouth, the McGowan Lake Fish Hatchery in Caledonia, Truro, New Glasgow and Oxford.

“Chimney swifts are part of a group of birds called aerial insectivorous… birds that eat flying insects while in flight,” explains Manthorne, noting that swallows and nighthawks fit into this category.

“The birds in this group are declining more than any other bird populations in Canada.”

Manthorne cited the loss of old stone and brick chimneys, increased use of pesticides and the frequency of severe weather events as perceived threats to the chimney swifts. Chimneys offer steady temperatures along with protection from the elements and most predators.

“They go for dark, sheltered spots,” says Manthorne, who describes the species as “very charismatic.”

According to Bird Studies Canada, the country’s chimney swifts population has dropped by 95 per cent since 1968.

“Each species has its role in the ecosystem and when we lose a species or a species starts suffering, it weakens the fabric of our biodiversity,” says Manthorne.

Swifts, she says, are a natural form of pest control as they predominantly feast on insects.

Swift advocates

On the upside, Manthorne says people are taking an interest in the plight of the swifts. Advocates often push to have retired chimneys reserved as swift habitats.

“Once people start to learn and they become passionate about monitoring and conservation, that tends to bode well for that species.”

The chimney that draws swifts to the school in Middleton is no longer in use, but it still stands thanks to concerns raised within the community about the potential loss of popular chimney swift roosting site.

Claire Diggins regularly tracks the number of swifts roosting at MRHS in the late evenings. On June 2, she counted 513.

“Our chimney seems to be one of their favourites in the province,” says Diggins, a retired teacher with an interest in bird watching.

Diggins has been trying to generate interest in the chimney swift activity in Middleton for about 15 years.

“We just don’t celebrate them,” she says.When I heard about the swifts, I was fascinated.”

SwiftWatch volunteers like Diggins help Bird Studies Canada gather information for a countrywide program monitoring of the swift populations.

There are ways people can help preserve the population: avoid capping suitable chimneys if possible, refrain from having chimneys swept between April and September and leave unused chimneys uncapped in the spring and summer.

“It’s a special thing to have an endangered species right in our backyard,” says Manthorne.

If you go:

There will be a Swift Night Out event in Middleton June 12. It will begin with an informative presenation about chimney swifts slated to begin at the fire hall in Middleton at 7 p.m. From there, participants will go to observe the chimney swifts in action at Middleton Regional High School’s roosting site.

 

For more information about chimney swifts visit www.merseytobeatic.ca or www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/ai/chsw/.

This "Meet the Chimney Swift" reference guide is posted on the Middleton Regional High School, which is a popular roosting site for the birds.

Recent Stories