New Chimney Swift Tower in Mary McCann Park

Brian Kissane (on ladder) and his brother, Brandon complete roughed-in construction of a chimney swift tower in York Township’s Mary McCann Park.

(L. to R.) Chris Kissane, Jared Russell, Eagle Scout candi-date Brian Kissane, Ian Rus-sell, and Brandon Kissane, after completion of Chimney Swift Tower’s first story.

Left to right) Jared Rus-sell, Michael Miller, Jack Harrison, Brandon Kissane, Brian Kissane (in letter jacket), and Ian Russell with com-pleted chimney swift tower.

By John Farmer

York Township’s Mary McCann Park is home to an object that is leaving park visitors scratching their heads.  Puzzled visitors who stumble onto a tall, thin, gray structure looking like a chimney minus its house are probably entertaining some pretty bizarre thoughts about what it is and what it’s for. (See accompanying photos.)

The 15-foot tower was actually designed and built to be a combination maternity ward and communal roost for a little-known bird.  When Saline High School Senior Brian Kissane approached the York Township Parks Committee a year ago in search of an Eagle Scout project, he was told that chimney swifts need housing, and a partnership was formed to install a bird high-rise in the park.  When they move in, both birds and people will be winners.  An adult swift can consume up to 1000 mosquito -sized insects a day.

Chimney swifts, (Chaetura pelagica), are a common species in our area, but many people aren’t familiar with them.   They are easily confused with bats or swallows since they catch their food on the wing.  However, they are not closely related to either.

Chimney swifts have been described as “flying cigars”.  Their stubby bodies and swept-back wings give them that look.  Their tiny legs are designed for clinging to vertical surfaces.  They cannot walk, and spend almost every waking hour on the wing.  They drink and bathe by taking on water while flying.

There are many species of swift worldwide, but the chimney swift is the only kind in the eastern United States.  Prehistorically, they nested in caves and hollow trees.  As settlers moved west, cut the forests, and built homes with chimneys, the birds substituted masonry for wood, and found lots of flying insects over towns.  During the summer when people built no fires, chimneys were great places to build nests, raise young, and roost in large communal groups before heading to South America in the fall.

For several decades, chimney swift numbers have been declining.  Lack of suitable habitat is believed to be a major cause.  Heating homes with fuel-efficient gas burners that use metal pipes to vent furnace exhaust has eliminated nesting space.  People who are less attuned to Nature than in earlier days are often bothered by strange noises (hungry swift babies) coming from their fireplaces during early spring.  They put screens over chimney tops to keep unknown “pests” out, unaware that they may be evicting a swift family from its nursery.

With such pressures increasingly hurting swift populations, concerned conservationists have developed several designs for chimney swift towers.  That knowledge was what brought Brian Kissane and the York Township Parks Committee together to build the McCann Park tower.

Now, with the tower ready and chimney swifts heading North again, Brian, his family, friends, fellow Scouts and the Parks Committee are turning their eyes to the sky.  They invite you to do likewise.

(To learn more and follow the chimney swifts’ spring migration, check this site:  http://www.twincitiesnaturalist.com/2010/04/tracking-chimney-swift-migration.html  )

 

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