Every fall between the end of September and the beginning of October, the Vaux’s swifts embark on a Southern migration, and along the way, these slim cigar-shaped birds with crescent wings, roost en masse in urban chimneys.
For many years, as many as 14,000 Vauxies have been occupying a chimney near Spring Street and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. (They were at a chimney of the Chester Williams Building but recently moved to the nearby chimney atop the Crocker Citizen’s National Bank last year.) Birders have delighted in witnessing the evening roost from the top of a parking lot at 440 South Broadway, watching their swirling vortex of feathers descend into the safety and comfort of a man-made structure.
This year, however, the Vaux’s are moving about and according to Kym Pietch, development director for the Audubon Center at Deb’s Park who is taking on SoCal Swift Watch duties, only about half of the birds are returning to that familiar chimney. “They are going somewhere else and we want to know where they are,” she says, offering a reward of a “late happy hour” to the person who can locate them. (Contact Pietch at firstname.lastname@example.org to claim your prize).
Pietch hopes that someone in Downtown Los Angeles will peer out their high-rise window and spy the flappers around dusk, the time that they start settling down for the night. “Someone from an office building with a view of the historic district may have a view of them,” she says adding that maybe a pedestrian or cyclist may also be the lucky swift spotter.
The swifts have been known to change their overnight locations in Los Angeles. Years ago, they were found in the abandoned old Nabisco Bakery near the Loft District.
Another one of their favorite locations is in Long Beach. Kimball Garrett of the Natural History Museum says a local birder recently messaged him about a flock of 2,000 swifts in north Long Beach. “The swifts are around, apparently just not using roost sites that have been used in recent years,” he writes in an email. “Some year there have been large fall roosts in Long Beach, so the big numbers are not necessarily in downtown Los Angeles.”
Voracious insect eaters (they love mosquitos); Vauxies have been known to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles in one day.
Next week is typically the height of the Vaux’s swift migration through Los Angeles so now is the time to keep an eye out for them. Garrett says that with this next wave of relatively cool and cloudy weather, “there will be a lot more Vaux’s around.”
Bird lovers can still see some of the swifties going into the downtown chiming from the 440 South Broadway parking lot. Get there about 6:15 or 6:30 recommends Pietch. The birds usually make their final frenzied swirl inside about 7:15 p.m. “You don’t want to get there too early,” says Pietch. “Otherwise you will get a crink in your neck from looking up so long.” Bring reclining chairs and about $3 for parking.
— Brenda Rees, editor
Featured photo by the East Cascades Audubon Society