Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Swifts...and a falcon

It's September and in Portland, Oregon, that means time for birds to plummet from the sky into a chimney. And not just any bird or any chimney. The Chapman Elementary School chimney attracts the largest known number of migrating Vaux's swifts in the world.

For three weeks this month, thousands of Vaux's and hundreds of humans gather each night at the school. The people find a place to sit and watch the aerial show; the birds show up around dusk to swirl around and around before abruptly pouring themselves like a reverse spill of pepper into their container. Wanna see? Here's a video taken in 2009.

The birds are on their annual migration to Central America and Venezuela. They used to hang out in old hollowed-out trees, but those are in short supply these days, so the birds make do with chimneys along the western edge of North America.  

When I was at Chapman recently, a peregrine falcon also made an appearance, looking for a quick takeout meal. The falcon swooped into the midst of the birds, but the swifts rallied and mobbed it, chasing it off into the distance--to the enthusiastic applause of the watching crowd. The swifts returned and went back to swirling around the chimney--when, out of nowhere, the falcon appeared again, tucked its wings tight and zoomed into their midst. It nailed a swift and made off with it--ignoring the collective gasp from the appalled humans below. 

I understand that sometimes when a peregrine or Cooper's hawk shows up, the crowd boos. Ya gotta love Portland.


  1. The swift assassination would've been something to see. We've had a pair of red tail hawk move into the neighborhood this summer. Their skrees are loud and frequent as they shop the field next to the house. And you're right, it becomes a regular soap opera when the crows begin pestering the hawks. Strange, but the hawks just ignore them and keep on circling.

  2. Nature red in tooth and claw. Falcons and hawks gotta eat too.

    Swift Assassination. Oh Barb!

    The video is amazing. They just keep dropping down. How do they all fit in there? Maybe all the swirling is how they arrange themselves and make their plans. "Bob's squadron,you cover the top north quadrant. Pierre's squadron, take the middle north quadrant. Ursula's squadron gets the bottom north quadrant.. .. ." "We don't want to camp under Pierre's squadron. They're rude." "You are all a bonch of sheet heads anyway. We crap where we must." "OK, Pierrre, your squadron get the bottom quadrant."

  3. That is such a spectacular video. What an amazing sight.

  4. That is such a spectacular video. What an amazing sight.

  5. That is so cool how they do that without crashing into each other and ending up - SPLAT!- on the ground. If I were a swift, I would probably splat!!!

  6. Incredible, never seen anything like it