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A Long Awaited Chimney Swift Tower Coming Soon to Prairie Ridge

April 24, 2014

On April 17, Museum staff and partners welcomed over 50 people to witness the beginning of an exciting new addition to the Prairie Ridge grounds: a Chimney Swift roosting tower.  The tower, funded largely by a generous $25,000 Toyota TogetherGreen Innovation award, is expected to become a valuable new late-summer roosting site for up to 5,000 Chimney Swifts once construction is complete later this year.  The tower has been a dream of Museum staff for over 15 years, so the groundbreaking celebration represented a real labor of love.

Classroom presentations for the media and public audienceThe event began in the Outdoor Classroom with brief talks presented by Museum staff, including an introduction by the director of Research and Collections Jason Cryan and a summary of the status of Chimney Swifts in North Carolina by curator of birds John Gerwin.  John Connors, now retired from the Museum and representing Wake Audubon, described the history of the project and how the birds will benefit from the new tower.  The talks also included remarks by Heather Starck Hahn, Executive Director of Audubon North Carolina, that described how important this tower will be for the birds upon completion.

Groundbreaking of the future tower siteAfter the presentations, everyone moved to the location of the future tower for the official groundbreaking ceremony.  John Connors and Mary Ann Britton, former director of Prairie Ridge, cut the ribbon surrounding the site before several dignitaries broke ground, representing the Museum, Audubon, Frank Harmon Architect, and Clancy and Theys.  The event concluded with a bird walk led by Museum staff to introduce attendees to the birds of Prairie Ridge, citizen science activities they can do in their own backyards, and how mist netting allows researchers to study birds.

The tower will become an important resource for the Museum, providing valuable habitat for the Chimney Swifts and advancing our scientific understanding of these charismatic birds.  Chimney Swifts are small brown birds that remain on the wing most of the day through most of their time in North Carolina each year.  They typically rest overnight in pairs in chimneys throughout the region.  However, starting in August, the birds begin to flock, forming groups of thousands of individuals as they prepare to migrate.  These large flocks won’t fit into the average home chimney, so they begin to look for larger, industrial chimneys.  Thousands of birds will fly into suitable large chimneys each night until the flock migrates south for the winter.

Bird walk led by Museum staffThe tower at Prairie Ridge is designed like one of these large chimneys and will provide a place for flocks of Chimney Swifts to roost at night before they migrate.  The tower is also designed as a research tool, incorporating webcams and other recording devices so scientists can see inside the roosts 24-hours a day and answer several unanswered questions about Chimney Swift behaviors and biology.  But the tower isn’t simply a research tool.  The public will be invited to witness the spectacle of thousands of Chimney Swifts coming in to roost at night each fall, either on-site at the tower or online via the webcams.  It should prove to be an amazing sight once the Chimney Swifts find and begin to use their new tower!

We are excited to bring this great new resource to the Museum.  The Chimney Swift tower will become an excellent tool to both learn more about these wonderful birds and to help us succeed in our mission to introduce the people of North Carolina to the natural world.  The tower has been a dream for many Museum staffers for a long time, and it will be exciting to see it finally become a reality over the next few months!

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