Thursday, August 28, 2014

Swift Fest 2014

What's a chimney swift to do when
 the chimney's entry-proof?
In the last month, I've written about puffins and hummingbirds. Now it's chimney swifts. This blog is for the birds.

Chimney swifts are birds that roost vertically in upright structures like chimneys. But what’s a swift to do when people cap their chimneys? These resilient birds rely on hollow tree trunks, cave walls, cisterns and wells.

The Jonestown, Texas Swift Fest celebrates the chimney swift and its seasonal loyalty to a cistern just off Highway 1431. (Talk about repeat customers!) The festival, complete with music, barbecue, and activities for kids, takes place in late August, before swifts migrate to their winter quarters in South America.

Swifts may mate for life, but they don’t sleep alone. On late summer nights in Jonestown, hundreds of pairs fly into the 19th-century cistern that sits behind the office of Jones & Carter Real Estate.

At Swift Fest 2014, a representative from the Travis Audubon Society counted 440 birds as they entered the cistern. The annual count has ranged from a high of 2400 to a low of 14. (That low count reportedly was due to a cold front that sent swifts to South America ahead of schedule.)

Here’s a YouTube video that shows the birds dropping into the cistern:

It’s wrong to attribute human characteristics to birds, but as I watched the swifts circle the cistern many, many times before dropping into it, I remembered my kids’ resistance to bedtime, which was always strongest in summer. They'd beg to ride their bikes one more time, run through the sprinkler one more time, play catch one more time. I liked to think each additional minute of bike riding tired them out a little more. Did the multiple cistern fly-bys tire out the swifts? I hope so, because one bird's tossing and turning would have messed with a lot of swifts' sleep.

if you're surprised Jonestown celebrates the chimney swift, know that these birds spend the daylight hours foraging for insects, including mosquitos. Any bird that cuts the mosquito population in late summer deserves a party. Go, swifts!

Been to any unusual festivals lately? Details, please.


Liz Flaherty said...

Haven't been to any strange ones--unless you count the Cole Porter Festival--but that was interesting.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Liz,
A Cole Porter Festival IS interesting. I'll bet there was dancing, and the thought of it and the music makes me swoon.

Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

I am such a bird freak. I love this post. The animal world is so interesting. I have been on many bird watching trips and am always surprised at how clever a lot of them are. And adaptable.

I hope you went to the festival. It sounds like something cool to witness.

And yes, absolutely, keep eating those mosquitoes. That's why I love bats and never discourage them to leave my property.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Jennette Marie Powell said...

What a cool story and tradition! I tend to avoid festivals because of the crowds, but my daughter recently attended Dayton's Celtic Festival, where an Irish band called Socks in the Frying Pan threw autographed socks at the audience - and she was thrilled to catch two! She said the band was great, too. :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jansen/Patricia,
I went to the festival and initially was skeptical about the swift drop. I figured fifty or so birds might fly into the cistern. Big whoop de do. You know how some skeptics turn into the biggest rah-rah types? I was completely won over by the birds, the drop, the cistern, the crowd, the whole hullabaloo. I'm going back next year.

Hope you see lots of interesting birds in Alaska!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette,
Socks in the Frying Pan is a catchy name, and I seem to remember drying socks that way on a long-ago camping trip. The technique didn't work well, but the band sounds cool. (An Irish band. What's not to like?)

Jim Nosler said...

Thank you for attending Swift Fest, and for your thoughtful review. There is something special about the swifts and the cistern. It is great to see the community building a great event to celebrate a wonder of nature.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jim,
I agree there's something special about the swifts and their loyalty to the cistern. There's something special about the Jonestown community, too. See you at Swift Fest 2015!

Coleen Patrick said...

Learned something new today! When birds sit up on our chimney and chirp it always sounds like they're in my house. :) Considering we don't use our chimney, I'm surprised word hasn't traveled in the bird community. Our chimney would be the place to roost. :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen,
I'll check out the cistern this weekend. If the swifts are still there, I'll spread the word your chimney's available for seasonal occupancy. In a lot of ways, they're the perfect tenants: forage all day/sleep all night.