“Swiftnado” – a downtown Birmingham natural phenomenon

Birmingham Audubon
Chimney Swifts in Downtown Birmingham – photo courtesy of Greg Harber

Everyone has heard of the campy summertime television series Sharknado Week on the SYFY Network.

Well, downtown Birmingham has got those Hollywood science fiction folks beat with it’s own natural “reality show” – the Swiftnado!

Tonight (September 9th), the Birmingham Audubon Society will be holding their 2nd “Swift Night Out” for members and fans (register here) of the remarkable “Chimney Swift” bird.  Meet up with Birmingham Audubon at the Pizitz Hall around 5:30 for dinner.  At about 6:30, after some time to learn about this remarkable bird, the group will trek on down to the Masonic Temple Hall, at 1630 4th Avenue North to see the natural phenomenon (additional details here).

This past week, Birmingham Audubon’s Greg Harber provided a snapshot on Facebook about the impressive number of Chimney Swifts that have been visiting the Masonic Hall chimney for 95 years.

Here is Harber’s post and his “back of the envelope” estimate of the number of birds that have used the Masonic Hall Chimney for nearly a century.

Via Facebook

Contemplate this. The Masonic Hall where the Chimney Swifts roost each night has been there 95 years. We’re nearing/at the peak of migration for the swifts, now, and this evening there were about 800 birds that entered the chimney. Some years there were likely more swifts on this particular day, other years less, but overall it’s safe to say that on this one date/night in the peak of migration that chimney has hosted 76,000 Chimney Swifts during that span of time. And that’s just one night. 

Birmingham Audubon
Photo by Birmingham Audubon’s Greg Harber
About the Chimney Swift

According to the Birmingham Audubon Society, the entire North American population of the aerial acrobatic Chimney Swifts make their way south to winter along the remote headwaters of the Amazon River. On their way there, they congregate in huge roosting flocks with as many as two or three thousand birds sharing a single chimney—numbers that make for a tremendous spectacle when they all pour into the tiny opening at once.

Birmingham Audubon
Map from allaboutbirds.org

Conservation of Chimney Swifts have become a priority for the Birmingham Audubon.  Over the years, habitat for the bird – “chimneys”  -have been slowly disappearing from the urban landscape.  Recently, the Birmingham Audubon’s Junior Board raised funds to build a chimney that has now been located on the grounds of the Jones Valley Urban Teaching Farm.

Here is the chimney.

Birmingham Audubon
Chimney Swift chimney built by the Birmingham Audubon Society’s Junior Board – photo by Pat Byington, Bham Now

This and many other projects throughout the Birmingham Metro area are part of Birmingham Audubon’s Urban Bird Habitat Initiative. These projects protect and save crucial bird habitat and insure that we continue to have “visitors” such as the one of a kind Chimney Swift in our community.

Learn more – get involved

To learn more about  Birmingham Audubon and how you can get involved, visit birminghamaudubon.org and join them tonight at the Pizitz Hall downtown. We can guarantee, the “Swiftnado” will be memorable.


Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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