September brings more than the students back to the Chapman School. Every year throughout September thousands of Vaux’s Swifts gather in Portland as they prepare to migrate to Central America and Venezuela. These fast-flying, dark, bat-like birds don’t perch but rather roost, which means they cling on the sides of hollow things like hollow tree trunks and chimney’s. The Chapman School chimney in Northwest Portland has been their roosting place of choice since the 1980’s.
Chapman Elementary School houses the largest known roost of migrating Vaux’s Swifts in the world. Thousands of swifts roost in the chimney on a nightly basis starting late August and continuing through September. Portland has embraced and cherish this natural phenomenon so much so that the school restructured a new heating system, that does not utilize the roosting chimney, and added stabilizers to the chimney’s framework to ensure the chimney could withstand the weight of thousands of birds and keep the kids in the elementary school safe.
So what does it mean when the swifts are back in town?
It means you should pack a picnic dinner or some dessert, grab a blanket, the kids, your dog (and we used to easily be able to pop a bottle of wine, although this year they say park rangers will be enforcing the no alcohol rule so I’ll have to see what this really means next week when I go. I’ll post an update in the comments afterwards) and some cardboard!
Where does this take place?
The Chapman School NW 26th/ Raleigh Ave, Portland, OR
When should I arrive?
Arrive an hour before dusk, so say 6 ish and it goes until 8 ish.
What exactly will I see?
A hillside full of people on blankets and chairs, tons of kids running around and cardboard sliding down the dried out hillside and a sky that looks typical. As the minutes starts to wind down and dusk starts to creep in, the sky becomes freckled with black quickly flying small birds, then more and more and more birds- literally thousands of SWIFTS fill the sky overhead. Just before dusk the birds start to fly in circular pattern creating a funnel-like cloud. Soon you’ll notice the funnel of birds start to funnel down into the chimney where they will roost for the night. It’s an amazing natural phenomenon and so very worth a few hours of your night. Swifts make a tasty meal for Hawks and you will most likely encounter a Swift/Hawk face off during the night.
Parking is tight so arrive early or plan on walking a fair distance, also new this year parking has opened up in Montgomery Park (only 6 blocks away) For more information of the Vaux’s Swifts and the Portland Swift Watch check out the Audubon Society of Portland