Swarms of swifts charm Sellwood Citizens

Chapman Elementary school in NW Portland isn’t the only location where folks gather to see these little birds dive down a chimney to roost. Take a look, and see what we saw in Sellwood …

The organizer of the “swift watching party”, Kirstin Mcauley, reads a storybook to kids who came to watch the phenomenon a short time later, with their parents.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Swifts are small insect-eating birds that migrate south each fall – and have made Portland one of the stops on their journey.

According to the Portland Audubon Society, Chapman Elementary School’s chimney in Northwest Portland has been one of these roosting sites since the late 1980s. People gather there at sunset during migration, as the plucky little birds head for a place to sleep for the night – sometimes by the thousands.

Just as swallows return to San Juan Capistrano every year, flocks of swifts choose roosting places – even though swifts are actually related to the hummingbird family. For a couple of years, a flock of these highly aerial birds have found a favorite nighttime spot in SE Portland, in the chimney of a store called “American at Heart” at S.E. 13th Avenue and Tenino Street.

The swifts didn’t disappoint the audience camped out on the lawn.

On September 3, we accepted the invitation of Kirstin Mcauley to watch the swifts roost, from a vantage point on the lawn of SMILE Station, across the street.

As dusk came, the sky darkened even more, as flocks of swifts swirled in ever-tightening circles. First a few, then dozens – and finally hundreds of birds made a bee-line for the chimney’s small entrance. As darkness fell, the flutter of wings went silent, as the Sellwood swift family bedded down for the night.

From the elevated deck of Cheryl and Eric Fox’s “Copper Fox Photography Studio” next door, we got an up-close view of the swifts, as they headed for the chimney.

Here come the swifts!

“Everybody in for the night!”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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