By Nathan Swick, Wake Audubon Board member
Birdwatchers in North Carolina’s Piedmont should be on the lookout for the eminent return of Chimney Swifts from their wintering range in Amazon South America. Historically, Swifts nested in hollow snags across eastern North America but quickly took to residential chimneys as a replacement, from whence their common name is derived. The birds are actually quite nice to have around for homeowners as they feed on thousands of small and annoying flying insects per day.
Unfortunately, chimney caps and screens have become more prevalent as some homeowners either don’t want swifts nesting on their property or don’t understand that caps can have an effect on locally nesting swifts. But by taking a few steps you can easily encourage swifts to come to your own chimney where you can enjoy them all summer. And besides, you weren’t using your chimney in the heat anyway, were you?
Wake Audubon member Erla Beegle has put together some tips borne of experience; she fledged 3 chicks in her chimney last summer!
Chimney Swift Checklist:
– Do you have a suitable chimney? (brick inside – not slippery metal or porcelain, and a “cap” that can be easily removed. Any chimney eight feet or taller is high enough. )
– BEFORE YOU REMOVE THE CAP: Call a chimney cleaning company before late April and get the chimney cleaned out! (Dirty chimneys can lead to nest failure, as the nest can break off with a big flake of creosote when the babies get big)
– Get the metal lid (“cap”) off your chimney before late April (save the cap for the winter). The cleaning company might remove it for you for a small fee, or ask a contractor, if you do not want to climb onto the roof.
– Keep the flue CLOSED during the nesting season (just in case a baby swift has to climb back up.)
– Do NOT use the chimney during the nesting season (gas fireplace owners: put a sign on the switch so guests do not make that mistake! I put a sign on the flue handle for my wood-burning fireplace.)
– If you are lucky enough to have a pair of swifts in your chimney: Congratulations! You will hear peeping and chattering for several weeks (any time in May and June). This wonderful sound can be quite loud, and goes on from dawn to dusk. Turn up the radio and you won’t notice it. They are quiet once the sun goes down.
– There’s only one pair of swifts per chimney, and it will be their home all spring and summer. The parents and “kids” may roost in your chimney throughout the late summer, so keep the cap off until late fall.
– To keep your insurance company happy: re-attach the chimney cap in late fall before you start using the fireplace again. The cap prevents sparks from landing on the roof.
Thank you for opening your hearth to swifts!
Via Land for Tomorrow:
ACTION ALERT: Legislators move to take millions from conservation trusts – take action now!
On Thursday, February 3, the North Carolina Senate took its first vote on fast-moving legislation that would gut two conservation trust funds. Senate Bill 13 would take $1.8 million from the Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and $8.5 million from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. This legislation is moving quickly, so write your Representative and Senator today and ask them to oppose Senate Bill 13.
The legislation is part of an effort to shift money from this year’s state budget into the next fiscal year. Legislators are facing a $3.7 billion budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, and are looking for ways to reduce the size of that shortfall.
Taking money from the state’s conservation trust funds is the wrong way to close that gap. These trust funds leverage local dollars, protect farms and create jobs.
Click here to take action now by writing your state legislators. Tell them to protect the state’s conservation trust funds.
How many of us are really aware of the plight of the Rusty Blackbird? Sure, it’s not flashy, it’s rarely a target species for many as it’s buried there in the back of the field guide, and often can be difficult to tell from other blackbirds especially given the Icterid propensity to hang out together. But of all the species that have suffered declines in North America (and sadly, it’s many), the Rusty has quietly suffered one of the most severe. According to Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count statistics, the Rusty Blackbird population has collapsed, down a staggering 80-90% since the 1960s. The bird is in serious trouble.
In many states blackbirds, characterized as not only the ever present grackles, starling and red-wings but also the Rusty are listed as nuisance birds. Therefore, one is allowed to take as many as one wants if the birds are, and this is directly from Federal law (emphasis mine), “committing or about to commit depredations on ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in numbers and in a manner that constitutes a health hazard or other nuisance“. There is a lot of gray area there. In short, you can shoot Rusty Blackbirds practically whenever you want. In North Dakota the USDA is currently testing a new plan that involves baiting the birds with brown rice. If that proves successful the rice will be treated with a poison. Migratory Bird Act need not apply apparently.
The problem, of course, is that there are no provisions differentiating starlings and grackles, which certainly can be nuisances in large numbers, from our Rusty Blackbird, whose population is taking a dramatic nosedive. And if no such qualifications are made, the Rusty Blackbird’s unfortunate resemblance to more problematic species may write its ticket right into extinction.
So we’re well aware of the bad hand the Rusty Blackbird has drawn. And it can be overwhelming to sit there as a birder and feel completely helpless as these forces largely out of our control conspire to take one of North America’s unique bird species away from us right before our eyes. But in this case there is something you can, in fact, do to help. In heart of darkest cynicism shines a glimmer of hope.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology is launching their third annual Rusty Blackbird Blitz, encouraging birders from several states in the southeast and lower midwest to go out over a three week period, from January 29 to February 13, with Rusty Blackbirds specifically in mind. Your bird lists, either with or without Rusties (negative data is still data!), should be submitted to Cornell via eBird. More specific details are available here.
You should do this for several reasons. First; Rusty Blackbirds are in big trouble and we need to know where they are when they are so that appropriate habitat can be preserved.
Second; data collection via eBird will introduce you to what is a phenomenal tool for your personal birding records as well as a way for scientists to compile data on bird populations and movements. In many ways conventional “citizen science” rarely provides useful data sets, but eBird is that rare project that is actually enormously useful for scientists and birders, and when more people use it, its usefulness grows exponentially.
Third; you’re already going to be birding then anyway, right? Might as well look for Rusties!
I hope the case is easily made. The bottom line is that Rusty Blackbirds need your help and that you have the opportunity to offer it. So get out there and look for Blackbirds, folks!
PUBLIC HEARING about Falls Lake–Thursday, July 1st at 7:00pm
Campbell Lodge at Durant Nature Park–3237 Spottswood Street – Raleigh, NC 27615
According to the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Falls Lake suffers from an unhealthy amount of nutrients within its waters. The N.C Division of Water Quality has been working closely with stakeholders in hopes of developing a new set of rules that will help to protect and restore our beloved Falls Lake back to health. Therefore, this Thursday is the time and place to come out and HAVE YOUR VOICE HEARD; please don’t let these new rules be put into place without first having your say!!
Remember, there is a great deal at stake here, please let the DWQ know your thoughts and opinions regarding the wellness of such an important asset for the inhabitants of the Raleigh/Wake County area.
For more information on the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation-
For more information on the Public Hearings-