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Piedmont birding

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Chimney swift among this week’s migrating flocks

By Taylor Piephoff
Taylor Piephoff
Taylor Piephoff writes on birding in the Piedmont.

I have been looking for common nighthawks but so far have seen a grand total of just one. I am still hopeful though, as there have been reports of large flocks in North Carolina to our north. Some folks in our area have reported seeing them at local high school football games already.

What I have been seeing a lot of are chimney swifts. These are common in our area and are active on the wing throughout the day. We are approaching the peak migration time for the species right now, and they are rather conspicuous, particularly at dusk. Look for small groups of small birds with very rapid wing beats wheeling through the skies. Listen closely and you can hear their high-pitched twittering calls. Some folks think they are bats, but bats do not form large flocks and are silent to our ears.

Chimney swifts have become almost entirely dependent on manmade structures for nesting and roosting sites. I know many of you have experienced having these birds nest in your chimneys. I have, and I really kind of enjoy it; but it does take some patience to become accustomed to the noise.

Swifts also utilize chimneys for communal roosting sites during their migration. Hundreds, and sometimes up to a thousand of these birds will choose a favorite chimney and occupy it. It is quite a spectacle to watch as hundreds of the birds gather at a favored site and funnel down inside it at dusk. There is even a citizen science project called A Swift Night Out where anyone can report large gatherings of these birds.

This time of year it seems larger chimneys are chosen to accommodate the large numbers. In the Charlotte area past sites have included chimneys at UNC Charlotte, Shamrock Gardens Elementary School and uptown near the Dowd YMCA. Perhaps there are others you have found.

If you are interested in observing this spectacle, locate a large commercial or school chimney and watch at dusk. Go to www.chimneyswifts.org if you see something you wish to report or to find established roosts in your area.

Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont:

PiephoffT@aol.com.

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