Vaux’s swifts return to Monroe school

MONROE — The Vaux’s swifts are back at Frank Wagner Elementary School, but in smaller numbers than before.

Still, volunteers who count the birds believe they are just late and hope for a big turnout in the next few days.

Members from Monroe Swift Watch reported the first sizeable count of birds at the school’s chimney on Sunday: 5,000 birds.

It’s good news that the migrating birds are starting to show up by the thousands.

“Having a community celebration about the swifts without the swifts does not make sense,” said Susie Schaefer, a volunteer and the vice president of Pilchuck Audubon.

Everyone is invited to come out for Monroe Swift Night Out to watch the birds gather into a dark cloud and plunge into the narrow chimney. The event is set for Saturday, beginning at 5 p.m. at Frank Wagner, 115 Dickinson St.

The event also features information booths, spaghetti and refreshments. The swifts usually roost in the chimney until about mid-October.

For years the birds have returned to the chimney, which used to be for the school’s furnace. But volunteers got worried when they didn’t see birds coming back by late August.

There were about 61,000 birds counted by mid-September last year, and 167,000 around the same time in 2010. They migrate from Canada to south Mexico and as far as South America.

Theories for the decline include the birds possibly using another roosting spot in Sedro-Woolley they found last year, or a general decline in their population caused by a lack of food.

The Vaux’s are the smallest species of swifts in North America and are native to the Pacific Northwest. The birds prefer hollow trees, but are attracted to old chimneys because the bricks allow the swifts a place to perch.

In the past year, the birds have lost three of the 80 known roosting chimneys between San Diego and Canada, said Issaquah-resident Larry Schwitters, project coordinator of the Audubon Vaux’s Happening, a community project that locates the chimneys.

“I think the birds are late because of the weather,” Schwitters said about the sunny and warm conditions. “There is no pressure for them to move.”

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com.

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