Annapolis Valley Register
Chimney swifts return
Birds come back to free-standing structure in Bridgetown
Maggie Rice has always loved birds.
For the past 45 years, the 74-year-old has spent much of her free time birdwatching.
One cold night in early
May 2019, Rice was out for an evening walk near her home in Bridgetown, N.S., when she noticed a flock of small birds diving into a chimney.
The chimney was freestanding and was built next to the old high school that had recently been torn down.
Rice knew the chimney had a purpose. It housed hundreds of endangered chimney swift birds. She had been watching them every night for several weeks.
Rice has been an amateur bird-watcher most of her life having lived next to a lake for 30 years, and spent many years watching the black hawks that nested nearby.
“Gradually we watched the numbers dying off,” said Rice.
In 2019, Rice had heard that demolition had been halted on an old high school near her home because chimney swifts were found nesting in the chimney.
She had never seen a chimney swift before, but was immediately interested.
“They are an endangered species, I had read about them,” Rice said.
The decision was made to construct a purpose-built chimney for the birds.
“A lot of scientific input went into how it was built and that fascinated me,” said Rice. “It is the first successful purpose-built free-standing chimney in Canada. That’s pretty cool.”
When the new chimney was built, Rice started going down nightly to see if the birds would take to the new roost.
“I guess I just was curious if they’d show,” said Rice.
“The question was will they keep trying to go to the old chimney which was capped at that point,” Rice said. “I got interested if would they come back to that new chimney. It was pretty exciting when we
Maggie Rice performs her nightly routine of setting up a camera to observe and monitor chimney swift birds in a purpose-built chimney in Bridgetown. The chimney was built to house chimney swifts, an endangered bird that nest. This is the third and final year the swifts will be monitored by Birds Canada. saw them come."
Rice quickly became familiar with the behaviour and sounds of the birds and would volunteer regularly to help record data on the birds for Swiftwatch, a volunteer conservation program run through Birds Canada.
“They have a very distinctive sound. It’s not the least bit musical, it’s just a very rapid chittering noise,” Rice said.
“Once you know it, there’s nothing else like that.”
In the development plan, Birds Canada said they would monitor the chimney every spring for three years.
The responsibilities included monitoring the health of the birds and making sure the chimney was being maintained.
When the job came up this summer, Rice was chosen to be the official monitor for the swifts.
Every night, Rice walks the half kilometre from her house to the chimney to set up a camera to observe the birds.
“I set it out every night unless it’s raining,” Rice said.
“If I was volunteering I wouldn’t have the camera.”
She records everything from temperature readings to the swift’s flight patterns.
Because of the way the swift migrates, there is always more to know, said Rice.
“If they’re roosting tonight in Bridgetown, there is no guarantee they will roost here tomorrow,” said Rice.
This year, the roost is healthy, with more swifts coming all the time, said
“One night, I counted 11,000 birds,” she said.
“Previously we have seen numbers in the 200 to 300 range. If you get hundreds of birds going in all at once, it’s pretty impossible to count.”
This is the third and final year the roost will be monitored by Birds Canada.
In a written statement, Ally Manthorne, a spokesperson for the organization, said Birds Canada will continue to include the roost in their national monitoring.
“At the very least we will aim to co-ordinate volunteers to survey on the four dates in spring and then on a casual schedule throughout the rest of the season,” said Manthorne.
Rice says she is not sure what will happen once the agreement ends but is hopeful the community will take care of the endangered bird.
“There are always birdwatchers that are going to monitor just out of interest,” Rice said.
“The more questions the more you need to find the answer.”