One super awesome bird thing in Portland is watching the Vaux Swifts. It’s a popular activity for the entire community, regardless of any other interest in birdwatching.
At the end of their Spring migration, Vaux Swifts arrive in Oregon about April or May. They nest here and their young hatch about July. Each Fall migration, they form an enormous flock and pass through Portland during their journey back to Central America. The famous stopping point during their migration is an old chimney in an elementary school in Northwest Portland, Chapman Elementary.
During the month of September, each night around dusk the flock starts arriving at the chimney. It takes a good hour or more for the entire flock to arrive. They fly around, circling and circling, forming a larger and larger group. The scene is fantastic. When the sun goes down, they funnel into the chimney like a live tornado to find their resting place for the night.
Portlanders love this. It is a popular community activity to bring the family, the dogs, etc, bring a picnic dinner, and sit on the lawn outside the school to watch the swifts. Everyone does it. It is so common to hear people saying, “I’m going to watch the swifts tonight”. I recommend it for anyone, bird enthusiast or not. It is an incredible adventure.
The local Cooper’s Hawks and Peregrine Falcons typically show up for an easy hunt. I love watching them swoop in for a meal. Sometimes a small group of swifts peel off from the larger group to chase away the predators. With a love of all birds and respecting all levels of the food chain, it’s hard to decide who to route for, the predators or the prey!
Here‘s a cool YouTube I found. Seeing it in person is much preferred, but this gives you an idea how remarkable this is.
Swifts usually nest in large hollow cavities such as dead tree snags. Due to declining forests these birds have needed to find other suitable places to nest. A tall chimney mimics their natural nesting sites.
The Fall migration is coming to an end. The swifts will very soon pass through and not return until next year.