The Birds are Back in Town

The annual return of the migrating Vaux’s swifts to downtown L.A. is here. Flapping it in from Southern Alaska to their Central America winter homes, the vauxies are, according to Jeff Chapman, director of the Audubon Center at Debs Park, “right on time” despite reports that they have started their southward move a little later in the season.

To celebrate the return of these slender cigar-shaped birds that make their nighttime roost in the downtown LA chimney, Audubon is holding “Birds Over Broadway”  two public viewing parties atop a Broadway Avenue parking lot. Folks are invited to witness the birds swirling into the smokestack at dusk – some years, it’s been as many as 14,000-20,000 birds filling the sunset sky.

“It’s been my third year watching this and it’s still exciting,” says Chapman describing seeing the ancient mystery of primal instinct taking place in an urban setting. “What’s fascinating is how these animals have adapted to human alterations to their environment. This shows me that L.A. is a place for wildlife.”

Bird lovers will congregate atop of Joe’s Parking Garage and watch as the flappers enter the Spring Arts Tower (they have since moved from the Chester Williams Building) in dramatic loops, circles and spirals.

Don’t be surprised to see ravens nearby picking off a swift snack – the large black birds are opportunistic feeders and apparently swifts are quite tasty.

The spectacle may be taking place at other chimneys in the area, says Chapman, but so far he hasn’t heard of any other such large roosting sites. “There have been reports of them using a tree in Topanga,” he offers.


Swifts roost en masse as a survival adaptation; they conserve energy and share body heat. Plus, there’s safety in numbers especially when those ravens are nearby. Their adaptation to human structures is a great story, says Chapman who adds that the birds also probably chose downtown L.A. because of its close proximity to the L.A. River, a source for the insects they enjoy to gobble during the daytime.

All in all, Chapman looks forward to sharing the avian experience with old and new bird lovers.  “I bet this year we’ll see new folks especially since the new Nature Lab at the Natural History Museum has an exhibit on the Vaux’s swifts,” he says.

That said, we think the more exposure for the swifts, the better. We’re secretly hoping that Taylor Swift will find the story compelling enough to craft an inspiring and lively tune all about them. Swifts on swifts. Come on Taylor. We’re waiting…

The Audubon Center at Debs Parks will hold two organized public viewings of the Vaux’s swifts from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday Sept. 21 and Sept. 28 atop Joe’s Auto Park at 440 South Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. Parking is $3. The parking lot closes at 9 p.m. Birdwatchers are encouraged to bring picnics, binoculars and something to sit on, plus head covering. Kid’s crafts will also be available for youngsters. For more information, call 323-221-2255.

— Brenda Rees, editor….Featured photo by Jeff Chapman, Spring Arts Tower