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Preston resting spot is number one for Chimney Swifts

Fri, Aug 3rd, 2012
Posted in Preston All

The number one chimney swift site in the state of Minnesota as determined by the Audubon Minnesota Swift Counts in 2011 is the former Preston Elementary School chimney, which is now Trailhead Inn and Suites. Population counts had been conducted at over 200 sites within the state in 2011. Last August 30 around sunset, 1100 chimney swifts were counted circling over the 65-foot tall historic chimney before funneling down for a good night’s rest. The chimney is nearing 100 years old and has likely been a destination for the swifts since its construction. Swifts gather for communal roosts in large chimneys.

Greg Munson, former director of the Quarry Hill Nature Center, became aware this last spring of some damage to the old chimney, probably from a lightening strike. He initiated the effort to repair the historic chimney. The chimney has not functioned for the purpose for which it was designed, for the building’s furnace, for many years. Munson contacted owner Steve Corson and was given permission to repair and stabilize the chimney. The Minnesota DNR Non-Game Wildlife Division provided $4,500 for the repair of the chimney which has been completed.

At a May 2011 Preston City Council meeting, Munson presented plans for a tower/kiosk to be located in front of the Trailhead Inn near the bathrooms. The tower could provide a nesting site for a pair of chimney swifts. The kiosk would have educational materials on each of the four sides about swifts and possibly about cliff swallows and turkey vultures, which are also prevalent in the area. The tower is planned to be 16 feet tall with a 4-foot by 4-foot base to be made of concrete block. The DNR has expressed an interest concerning the installation of a camera, similar to the “eagle cam.”

Funding for building the tower/kiosk has been obtained ($300 from Zumbro Valley Audubon Society of the greater Rochester area, $300 from Minnesota Audubon, $2,000 from the Corson family, and $1,000 from the Preston Foundation.

City Administrator Joe Hoffman confirmed that the city has approved the building of the tower/kiosk on city property contingent on an agreement between the parties involved. At the city council’s July 16 meeting Hoffman reported that the city attorney had drafted an agreement as directed in May. However, Zumbro Valley Audubon wasn’t receptive to being responsible for liability and maintenance and asked that the city accept these responsibilities. The city council is concerned mostly about future maintenance and has invited Zumbro Valley Audubon to their August 6 meeting to work out an agreement between them for the liability coverage and maintenance of the tower/kiosk. Until there is an agreement, construction of the tower/kiosk is on hold.

The designation as the number one gathering site for the chimney swifts in the state is yet another visitor attraction for the city of Preston.

Chimney Swifts

Chimney swifts gather in huge flocks in late summer-early fall preparing for their migration south to the Peruvian Amazon Basin where they spend our winter.

Preston’s historic chimney attracts the fast flying, insect eating birds for their over night resting place. Swifts don’t perch but cling to a vertical wall like this brick chimney. Swift numbers have been declining, possibly due to a reduction in the number of masonry chimneys available for roosting and nesting. Many old chimneys have been capped. The preservation of old chimneys could help stabilize the population of the chimney swift.

Audubon describes the chimney swifts as four and three-quarters inches to five and one-half inches, about sparrow sized. They have a brownish gray body which appears black in flight and a very short tail. The small spines on the tail are used for support while roosting. Their wings are long, narrow and curved. The swifts have a wing span of about 12 inches and weigh less than an ounce. They communicate with loud, chattering twitters.

Swifts are built for speed and are great aerialists. They are among the fastest fliers in the bird world. They have been described as a flying cigar. They breed and roost in chimneys and feed entirely while in flight on flying insects. They also bathe and drink out of bodies of water while in flight. Twigs for their nests are gathered while in flight. Once they leave their roosting location in the morning, they stay in flight all day until they return to the roosting location in the evening.

Nests are made of twigs fastened together with saliva and attached to the inner wall of chimneys, air shafts, and occasionally a hollow tree.

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