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Vaux’s Swift

Chapman School in Northwest Portland houses the largest known roost of migrating swifts in the world! Hundreds of bird watchers visit the school during September to watch up to 35,000 Vaux Swifts swarm into the chimney at dusk.

Illustration by Genece Klein

Every September, Chapman Elementary School students scan the horizon while they’re out on the playground, watching for dark little birds to start circling above them.  In the afternoon and early evening, thousands of Vaux Swifts fly in noisy circles overhead.  Then, at sunset, the birds dive gracefully into the school’s tall chimney, seemingly being poured, or vacuumed, in!  There they cling, safe from predators while they sleep.
Vaux’s Swifts spend much of their lives in the air, foraging, drinking, courting, and collecting nesting materials on the wing.  They eat also eat tons of flying insects!  Vaux’s Swifts are here in Oregon from late April, when they arrive to nest and raise their young, through summer and into early autumn.

During September large groups of swifts congregate as they prepare for their long migration south to Central America and Venezuela. Because there are fewer and fewer natural options, these migrating swifts use chimneys to roost in during the night.  Once a group of swifts locates an appropriate roosting site, they are likely to return year after year. Chapman School in Northwest Portland houses the largest known roost of migrating swifts in the world!  Hundreds of bird watchers visit the school during September to watch up to 35,000 Vaux Swifts swarm into the chimney at dusk.

For years the chimney at Chapman School was part of the school’s heating system.  Sometimes students and teachers had to bundle up to avoid switching on the furnace, and possibly causing the deaths of thousands of birds.  School children, Audubon Society of Portland, and other bird lovers raised $75,000 to purchase a new heating system and decommission the chimney. Now the chimney is dedicated to the Swifts, and Swift Watchers from all over the world!

For more info: Visit Audubon Society of Portland’s info on Vaux Swifts and the September days you can get a fabulous view of those interesting birds as they congregate at Chapman Elementary School!  Click here to be taken directly to their web page.