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Swift advocates want old Bridgetown school chimney preserved

Chimney swift advocates wish to see the old chimney that still stands at the site of the now demolished Bridgetown Regional High School preserved as a roosting site for the endangered birds. However, the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has flagged the structure as a safety concern.
Chimney swift advocates wish to see the old chimney that still stands at the site of the now demolished Bridgetown Regional High School preserved as a roosting site for the endangered birds. However, the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal has flagged the structure as a safety concern. - Lawrence Powell

BRIDGETOWN, N.S - Birders, scientists and the provincial and federal governments are seeking a solution to provide endangered birds with a suitable roosting site in Bridgetown before they return in May.

Citizen scientists reported sightings of more than 500 chimney swifts roosting in the chimney of the now demolished Bridgetown Regional Hospital School while monitoring the birds for Bird Studies Canada.

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Allison Manthorne is the Maritimes Swiftwatch Coordinator for Bird Studies Canada. She says that made the Bridgetown site one of the busiest roosts in the province over the spring and summer.

She said in an e-mail that Bird Studies Canada has been cooperating with government agencies by providing data from observations by local birders about the use of roosting sites in the Valley. She said she hopes the chimney, which is the only remaining structure on the site, can be preserved.

“The best option for the Bridgetown Regional High School roost is to leave the chimney in place with minimal structural changes, other than whatever reinforcements that are necessary for safety's sake. Experience from across Canada and the USA has shown this to provide the greatest chance of successful occupation by chimney swifts,” Manthorne said.

She believes preserving the existing roost site is preferable to building a new structure because the birds may not choose to use the new location.

“Building a new chimney to replicate the existing roost is a less desirable option. Efforts to create or replicate chimney swift roosting habitat elsewhere across the chimney swift's range have had very low success rates and are quite costly,” she said. “Fortunately, we do not have to look very far to find examples of successful roost preservation and restoration, including well-known roost chimneys in Wolfville, Middleton, Truro, and New Glasgow.”

However, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal is seeking to demolish the existing chimney and create a suitable alternative habitat before the chimney swifts return to roost next spring, according to spokesperson Marla MacInnis.
She said the demolition requires permits from Nova Scotia’s Department of Lands and Forestry, under the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act and Environment Canada, under the Species at Risk Act. The project is on hold pending the outcome of these permit applications.
“The existing chimney is in poor condition,” MacInnis said in an e-mail. “Steps have been taken to ensure public safety, including boarding up ground-level openings in the chimney and boiler rooms, erecting a fence, and having security physically monitor the site.”

She said a soccer field, including spectator seating, a student drop off, parking, and public park space are planned for the site after the demolition.
Local birder Sharon Hawboldt said she enjoyed her efforts as a citizen scientist during the spring and summer. She and many bird lovers from the area worked diligently to pass on their observations of the swifts so that scientists can learn more about their behavior and protect their habitat.

She said she supports the government’s plans for the future use of the site. However, she and other bird lovers hope the existing roost site can be incorporated into those plans.

“I am hopeful that the community can come together and work out a solution that would be good for the birds and for the community,” she said. “I really hope the chimney isn’t torn down and forgotten.”

 Manthorne says it’s important for people in Bridgetown to voice their opinions on the matter.

“I think that local interest is a very important factor in the decision-making process. So, I definitely encourage people if they have opinions, one way or another, that they make sure they are heard.”

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