Large colony is a unique summer tradition in Lansing
by Melanie Jongsma
LANSING, Ill. (June 14, 2018) – Coolidge Elementary alums might not be the only Lansing residents who are feeling nostalgic about the 1928 building at the corner of Henry and Adams. A large colony of chimney swifts has an attachment to the old structure as well.
For at least 20, and possibly 70, years, the migratory birds have been nesting in Coolidge’s large chimney, spending their summers here before migrating to Peru. Because the Coolidge chimney is so large, it has become a gathering place for an estimated 200 swifts. By comparison, uncapped house chimneys can also attract chimney swifts, but a residential chimney typically becomes home to only one pair of swifts.
The Coolidge swifts build nests inside the chimney each summer. A typical clutch is 4–5 eggs, and the eggs hatch after 19 days. During summers in Lansing, the adult swifts leave the chimney each morning to feed and gather. At dusk they return home, swarming the chimney and chirping their arrival to the young inside.
Kat Podgorski has lived on Henry Street for 15 years, and the twittering sound of the colony’s dusk arrival has become part of her summer routine. She has an added interest because of her work as a Field Biologist and Avian Wildlife Rehabilitator.
“I just love these birds,” she says of the Coolidge chimney swifts, and of swifts in general. She describes them as a very social species, communicating with each other, encouraging their young, and forming communities. She also appreciates that they reduce the mosquito population.
“People oftentimes mistake swifts for bats because of their body shape and the way they look while flying,” says Podgorski. “But swifts are diurnal, while bats are nocturnal. Having had the opportunity to work closely with them in my years as a wildlife rehabilitator, they are truly remarkable birds. One of my all-time favorite species. I look forward to their return every spring.”
Chimney swifts throughout the U.S. are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which makes it illegal “to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell birds listed therein as migratory birds. The statute…also grants full protection to any bird parts including feathers, eggs, and nests.” (Source: Wikipedia) Chimney swifts are not yet considered endangered, but their population is in steep decline because of generations of urban development and widespread use of insecticides. The birds originally nested in hollow trees along their migratory path, but now chimneys are more available.
Podgorski encourages Lansing residents to discover and appreciate these “cool summer residents” who split their time between Lansing and Peru. Coolidge Elementary School is located at 17845 Henry Street. To see Lansing’s colony of Chimney Swifts returning home each evening, simply wait along the sidewalk on Henry Street until dusk. On June 13, individual swifts started arriving around 8:15pm, though the main swarm congregated closer to 8:45pm. Those times vary throughout the summer as dusk becomes earlier, and the size of the colony grows as the birds prepare for their fall migration.
Whoo’da thunk? I used to live near Coolidge and never realized there was a colony of chimney swifts calling Lansing their home. It was an awesome adventure tonight, to hang out and watch what looked like hundreds of birds dive-bombing into the huge chimney at dusk.
If each pair of birds produces 4-5 eggs, that’s a whole lot of new birds by the end of summer! I understand they return to their chimney and their nests every single year, all the way from Peru. According to https://firesafechimneysweep.net/chimney-swifts-are-endangered-birds/ “Once common enough across the entire eastern half of North America, chimney swifts have popped up on endangered species lists. Constrained by law since 1918, homeowners quite literally need a federal permit to remove them from their chimneys.”
What happens to a colony of chimney swifts when/if the chimney is torn down, along with the ancient building of Coolidge School? Does this law also apply to public school buildings?
Those are good questions, Judy! We may have to do a follow-up story as we gather additional information.
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