The chimney of the building that has become the library is an ideal roosting site for chimney swifts, which cling to vertical surfaces overnight. Because they’re endangered, volunteers have been trying to count them. The birds create a fascinating show as they swoop quickly around in groups at sunset, then drop into the chimney.
“They go so fast it’s hard,” said Dr. Helene VanDoninck, the veterinarian who runs the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. “They’re interesting to watch because they swirl around while they gather, then all head down into the chimney.”
This month she did two counts for SwiftWatch, a Bird Studies Canada program, and saw at least 130 each time.
The number of chimney swifts in Canada has declined by 95 per cent since 1968 and many chimneys suitable for roosting have been capped, lined or torn down. When she heard about plans for the old building to be renovated and serve as a new library, Van Doninck let people know about the chimney’s value. With this information, the town decided to preserve it.
Ross Hall, a retired wildlife biologist, said the birds spend winters in South America, and move north as insects emerge, arriving in Nova Scotia as the black flies are becoming nuisances.
Birds who are reproducing move to individual chimneys while they raise their young. They are monogamous and usually return to the same nesting site each year.
“That could be in hollow trees or chimneys,” said Ross. “There’s been a decrease in both chimneys and rural habitat, with a lot of old, open trees not available because of forestry.
“The increase in frequency and severity of adverse weather is also hard on the birds. There was a huge decline in numbers after a hurricane in 2005. They get caught up in the centre of the hurricane and it drags them along into colder weather.”
Pesticides are also believed to have contributed to their decline.
Ross said there are a few spots around Nova Scotia where counts take place, and some of the highest numbers are showing up at the former Temperance Street School – now an apartment building – in New Glasgow, this year.
Chimney swifts are 12 to 14 centimetres long, charcoal coloured with a pale throat. They have a long, thin body with long, pointed wings. They don’t perch or land on the ground, but fly throughout the day. They capture their food while flying, and can eat a third of their body weight in insects every day.
They build tiny nests from twigs glued together with saliva. Because they’re so small they’re not a fire hazard and it’s against the law to disturb them.
For more information on chimney swifts visit http://www.birdscanada.org/ or
Chimney swift facts
Before there were chimneys in North America, chimney swifts nested in caves, cliff faces and hollow trees.
They fly almost constantly except when roosting overnight and nesting. They never sit on perches, but cling to vertical surfaces.
To bathe they glide down to the water, smack the surface with their bodies, then bounce up and shake the water off as they fly away.
Only one breeding pair will be found nesting in one chimney or tree. The pair may tolerate other non-breeders roosting in their chimney.
The chimney swift uses saliva from a gland under its tongue to cement its nest to the chimney wall or rock face. Sometimes unmated swifts help raise the young.
The oldest recorded chimney swift was a male, and at least 14 years old when he was recaptured and released during banding operations in Ohio in 1970.
– from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology