Vaux’s swifts have made their return to Roseburg, gathering by the hundreds or thousands around sunset to communally roost in an old chimney behind the Umpqua Valley Arts Association.
“We’re having a wonderful turnout of people and birds,” Diana Wales, president of the Umpqua Valley Audubon Society, said of a bonus swift watch held last week.
In addition to simply watching the birds, Wales said there will be nature-focused art projects for kids to do before the birds go down the chimney and live music every Friday in September.
Wales said swift-watchers start gathering an hour before sunset.
A few years ago, a guitarist and fiddler started playing music for the event.
“It’s turned into a jam session. We used to call them the swift sisters except now there’s a lot of guys,” Wales said. “So, it’s the swift sisters and brothers.”
She said people who like to play Americana music can bring instruments and participate in serenading the birds.
Non-musicians can come with blankets or lawn chairs and “just enjoy a beautiful evening in the park,” Wales said.
Although Wales joked that “people will kind of stare at us because we’re there sitting in chairs staring at a chimney.” But when the birds converge in the sky, Wales said, “The excitement of people, particularly the excitement of little kids, they just kind of go wild.”
Last year, Wales said there were more than 6,000 birds one night.
Volunteers counted them with clickers as they went down the chimney.
Wales said she has no idea if there will be that many birds this year or how long they’ll stay.
Usually, she said they migrate through the area until late September and into October.
Because the birds arrived earlier than usual this year — in mid-August — Wales said she’s concerned there may not be many birds toward the end of the scheduled swift watches at the end of September.
“That’s one of the fun things about nature, you just don’t know,” Wales said.
Her advice is to go to one of the earlier events to ensure seeing the birds.
On Monday night, she said there were 2,000 birds in the chimney.
Wales said the event is also about education, with Audubon members talking about the bird’s migration and climate’s impact on them.
Historically, swifts would roost communally in large trees damaged by storms or fires, and as these trees become less numerous, the birds have adapted to using old industrial chimneys, which are now becoming less common as well.
“Swift watch is fun, it’s spectacular, but we also to try to make it educational,” Wales said.
Vaux’s swifts migrate from Canada to Central and South America for the winter. In spring, they begin their journey north again.
“They are small birds with a very, very long migration,” Wales said.
The event — located at 1624 W. Harvard Ave. in Roseburg — starts around 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 and 14 and starts around 6:00 p.m. on Sept. 21 and 28 when the sun sets earlier.