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The Bird Tornado Strikes Again

See something you’ll never forget, then notice it for years to come – guaranteed!

Witness the annual phenomenon of hundreds of chimney swifts swirling tornado-like and then plummeting into an old chimney en route to South America – an unforgettable spectacle by all accounts.

The Bird Tornado Strikes Again will be presented on Wednesday, September 5th at the Chardon Square Gazebo  and on September 12th at the Burton Square Gazebo.  Both programs will take place  from  7:30 to 8:30 p.m. 

Why do chimney swifts do this, and how can we guarantee it will happen these nights in Burton and Chardon?

To understand the behavior, you have to understand the bird. Chimney swifts are neotropical migrants, meaning they winter in the south and summer in the north. Though they once nested in hollow trees, America’s settlement and urbanization quickly introduced them to more convenient shelter – chimneys, where they can use their glue-like saliva to adhere stick nests to the inner walls.

“Swifts’ feet are adapted to cling exclusively to vertical surfaces aided by stiff tail feathers,” and feed exclusively from flying insects they snatch from the air, much like swallows and bats, Senior Naturalist Dan Best said.

After nestlings have fledged into flyers by mid-summer, swifts patrol the skies by day and gather at dusk to room communally in uncapped chimneys of older homes, as well as institutional chimneys with incinerators rendered defunct by the Clean Air Act of 1972. Among popular local spots are the Berkshire High School in Burton and, in Chardon, Park Elementary School, the church on the Square and Chardon High School.

Dan said migration always takes place in September and early October. At sundown, local swifts are joined by travelers seeking a “migratory motel” for the night. All together the birds gradually swell in the sky, swirling in ever-tightening circles and emitting twittering notes until, one by one, they begin to swiftly drop into the chimney.

“They make several close passes before actually entering the chimney,” Dan added, “either waiting their turn based on some unknown form of avian etiquette or just taking a while to decide when to enter.”

Chimneys like these often hold hundreds of swifts for the night. Previous programs through Geauga Park District have counted upwards of 500 birds making their way in – noisy for a time, then silent as they rest up for the next leg of their journey to Peruvian wintering grounds.

All ages are welcome to stop by and catch the view, and registration is not required for this wheelchair/stroller accessible event. Call 440-286-9516 with questions.