Here are the basic facts: The Wakarusa Group invites you to help build a chimney swift roost at the Baker Wetlands on Saturday, 5 November at 9 am. You should wear work clothes suitable for doing light carpentry. We will provide tools, snacks and drinks. We’ll meet at the 31st entrance. The T’s #1 bus can drop you off at 28th and Haskell at about 8:45 am, or the #7 bus can drop you off at 27th and Louisiana a little before 9. Using either bus should give you time to walk to the 31st entrance, where we will meet. Please contact Mike Campbell at (785)542-3885 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
But what are chimney swifts and why should we build them a roost? Well, the natural order of things includes the iron rule that a Kansas summer must include certain icons. Some we may not like. Say, chiggers or oppressive heat. Others, however, are as indispensable as ice cream on apple pie. These include bullfrogs calling at night, coneflowers blooming by the roadside, and chimney swifts circling overhead in the mid-day heat.
Chimney swifts, also known as flying cigars, are grey birds about as long as your hand. You often first notice them when you hear their call; a light chatter made up of the same syllable repeated a dozen times or so. Looking up, you may see a loner or a large group swooping back and forth with an irregular fluttering of their long wings that stretch to twice the length of their body. These wings and their torpedo-shaped torsos enable swifts to stay aloft for long stretches of time with minimal effort. They spend that time snagging flying insects. However, these skilled aerialists turn into awkward fumblers when they land.
Their underdeveloped feet prevent swifts from roosting like other birds. Swifts can only cling to the sides of vertical surfaces. For most of their existence, that has meant they built their nests and rested at night in hollow trees. A couple of centuries ago, a group of people arrived who delighted in filling the landscape with perfect swift habitat in the form of tall, hollow tubes of brick or stone. Swifts thrived inside these chimneys, one of the few species to benefit from the spread of the pioneers.
Unfortunately, most people now cap their chimneys, leaving the swifts homeless. We will help right the balance by building a sort of pseudo-chimney at the Wetlands. The wood chimney will stand about 10 feet tall. You can see pictures of a variety of swift roosts at: http://www.chimneyswifts.org/page5.html and a live webcam placed inside a roost at http://www.chimneyswifts.org/page2.html.
Please do make plans to join us at the wetlands. No special skills required. And, if you cannot be there, but would still like to help, we’ll gratefully accept donations to be used to help defray the approximately $300 it will cost to purchase of materials. You can mail donations to the Wakarusa Group of the Sierra Club, PO Box 1722, Lawrence, KS66044.