Sunday, August 16, 2015

Now is the time to help count chimney swifts

Now is time to help count chimney swifts
Reporting on evening phenomenon may help protect a declining species
MADISON, WI – That “smoke” pouring into brick chimneys in coming weeks isn’t an optical illusion but likely hundreds of native chimney swifts roosting for the night and gathering strength and numbers before they migrate south, all the way to the Amazon.
Wisconsin bird experts are asking homeowners, bird watchers and others to help count the birds and report where they see them to provide vital information on a declining, unique species.
“Chimney swifts are an important species in Wisconsin because they help keep flying insect populations in check,” says Kim Grveles, Department of Natural Resources avian ecologist and a member of the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group. “We need citizens’ help in counting the birds near them, and in reporting that information to us so we can better understand and take steps to hopefully reverse the decline of chimney swifts.”
“You don’t have to be an experienced bird watcher or trained researcher to enjoy the evening acrobatic displays of the swift,” says Nancy Nabak, co-chair of Green Bay's Swift Night Out program and member of the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group. “The sight of dozens or hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of chimney swifts going to roost for the night in chimneys can be an exhilarating spectacle.”
The Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group formed in 2012 to help identify and protect important swift roost sites, encourage or conduct field research on swifts and their ecology, and educate the public about the species in order to encourage action to halt the species’ decline. “Modern construction often doesn’t include chimneys, and chimneys are critical as nest sites and for communal roosting for non-nesting swifts. We want to encourage the public to keep suitable chimneys uncapped to provide habitat for these amazing birds,” says Sandy Schwab, chair of the working group.
During 2012, 60 volunteers helped identify 72 chimney swift roosting sites across several urban areas, with even more areas being monitored in 2013. In 2012, the largest roost was found at Cherokee Middle School in Madison, where more than 2,800 swifts were tallied. Aldo Leopold School in Green Bay, St. Norbert Abbey in DePere, and Geneva Lake Museum in Lake Geneva are sites of other large roosts.
[Video footage of chimney swifts at Cherokee Middle School in Madison by Dane County’s Four Lakes Wildlife Center.]
Chimney swifts nest in eastern North America in the summer and migrate to South America in the fall. Before European settlement, the birds nested in old-growth forests. As such forests disappeared, the birds discovered brick chimneys served as an easy and abundant replacement, Schwab says. Brick chimneys work well for the birds because the chimneys provide enclosed areas with a rough, vertical surface the birds can cling to, much like a hollow tree. Unlike most birds, chimney swifts do not perch on branches or other horizontal surfaces but must use the sharp nails on their tiny feet to cling to vertical surfaces.
For years their populations have been in decline, and in 2009 Canada listed them as a threatened species. Why are they declining?  No one knows for sure, but scientists want to conduct more research on the insects chimney swifts eat to better understand if changes in flying insect populations, possibly driven by widespread pesticide use, might be adversely affecting chimney swifts and other “aerial insectivores” such as whip-poor-wills, nighthawks, and swallows.
Tips on how and where to look for chimney swifts
Chimney swifts have slender bodies, very long, narrow, curved wings and short, tapered tails. They fly rapidly, with nearly constant wing beats, often twisting from side to side and banking erratically. They often give a distinctive, high-pitched chattering call while they are in flight, said Bill Mueller of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, Belgium, WI, and an advisor to the working group.
“A lot of folks see and hear them in the evening and don’t realize they’re birds,” he said. “They think they’re bats.”
Because chimney swifts congregate in communal roosts before migrating in late summer/fall, it's relatively easy to count them. Here's how to count:
  1. Look for tall brick chimneys that are uncapped. Watch to see where swifts are feeding and congregating. Pick one or more nights from early August in northern Wisconsin through mid- to late September in southern Wisconsin. Observe the roost starting about 30 minutes before sunset until 10 minutes after the last swift enters the chimney. Count (or estimate) the number of swifts as they enter the chimney. It’s useful to count in groups of five or 10 birds at a time when many birds pour into the chimney in a short period of time.
  2. Send in data (see link to attached data sheet) one of two quick and easy ways.
    • Enter the data on eBird. Go to the ebird-quick-start-guide (exit DNR). When prompted for location, map your roost site to an exact address or point. Include, in the “Chimney Swift” comments section, general weather conditions, time when the first and last swifts entered the roost and type of building -- residence, school, church, business, etc.
    • Or send the same information as above along with your name, address, email address, date and exact time of your survey at the roost to Sandy Schwab, 105 S. Marietta St., Verona, WI  53593 or
More information about chimney swifts and how to help protect them can be found on the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group website (exit DNR).
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Kim Grveles, DNR, 608-264-8594; Sandy Schwab, Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group, 608-658-4139

Thursday, August 6, 2015

new 2015 Shorebird Map for Wisconsin

Thanks to Mike Schlotfeldt for his work on updating the 2015 Shorebird Map -- find it at:
We will be updating it periodically throughout the fall.

 William Mueller

Director, Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory
WGLBBO online:
office  262-285-3374
cell   414-698-9108

Belgium, WI

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

North American waterfowl populations 2015

Results of 2015 waterfowl surveys are now available for North America, including estimates of habitat.

Go to this link for the overview:

Population estimates are here:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

you can still contribute

This year's Great Wisconsin Birdathon is done - see a summary of results at:

The Birdathon had 66 Teams, 166 birders participating, and a total of 255 species were recorded - the Birdathon raised more than $56,000 for bird protection in Wisconsin.

But you can still contribute to the Bird Protection Fund throughout the year.  Go to:

"The Bird Protection Fund has provided $920,000 to 14 bird conservation projects since 2008 through support from individuals, foundations, and organizations." These projects are:

Bird City Wisconsin
Golden-Winged Warbler Campaign for Neotropical Migrants
Great Wisconsin Birding and Nature Trail
Important Bird Areas Program
Kirtland’s Warbler Monitoring and Management
Wisconsin Bird Monitoring
DNR Species Guidance Reports for Declining Forest Birds
Trumpeter Swan Monitoring
Wisconsin Stopover Initiative for Migratory Birds
Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II
High-resolution videography equipment for bird conservation projects
Wintering-area conservation at Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula
Project Snowstorm
Whooping crane reintroduction project

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

global seabird population news

Severe declines in seabird populations around the globe are being reported:

ph by JJ Harrison, Wikm Commons

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

the continuing problem of illegal songbird trapping in southern Europe

For many years, trapping of songbirds for food has been an immense problem in some southern European countries (Cyprus especially is noteworthy for the scope of ongoing illegal activity). Despite years of effort, this problem continues, and recent proposed legislation there may actually make things worse:

Learn more at:

Support BirdLife International and its affiliates to work for resolution of this bird conservation issue: