Chimney swifts could be using Kentville's KCA for roosting, nesting: Churchill

Wendy Elliott
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Features of the brick chimney at the old KCA make it an ideal site for chimney swifts. A Kentville resident believes these endangered birds are using the site. – Wendy Elliott, www.kingscountynews.ca

Last May, Kentville resident and keen birder James Churchill saw a chimney swift at Miner’s Marsh. He went home and used Google StreetView to tour Kentville for chimneys that might harbour the migratory birds.

He went up to the old Kings County Academy that evening at dusk and watched. Churchill saw two of the endangered birds at the large brick chimney on the old high school. In August, he returned and saw another bird using the chimney.

Over the Easter weekend, Churchill found out about the planned demolition of the school and its chimney, so he sent a message to town officials, indicating that the chimney is a known roost site and possible nesting site for birds that are federally-threatened and provincially-endangered. 

The features of the chimney - including its diameter, height above the roof and unobstructed top - and its location near bodies of water where chimney swifts are known to forage, like Miner's Marsh, “make it excellent habitat for roosting and nesting swifts and, in my opinion, one of the best sites in Kentville,” Churchill said.

Chimney swift populations in Canada have declined by 95 per cent since 1968. As a result, they are protected under the federal Species at Risk Act and the N.S. Endangered Species Act. Churchill says they are also protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

He would like to see the town delay the demolition at least until after the breeding season ends in September.

“If the demolition activities were to occur in May of this year, and the chimney is occupied at that time, there is a high likelihood that birds will be disturbed and/or destroyed. If the chimney is in fact a nesting site for chimney swifts, then removal of the structure would possibly be considered destruction of habitat.”

Churchill has been in touch with several local experts for advice on the subject. He also questions whether the town has consulted wildlife authorities to determine “if there are permits required or other appropriate measures to be taken to ensure the welfare of any individual chimney swifts using the site and to ensure that habitat integrity is maintained.”

Churchill is hopeful that further evaluation of the site can be carried out.

As a trained ornithologist, he says he would be willing to carry these out himself between May and September.

Churchill is a board member of the Blomidon Naturalists Society, a member of Nova Scotia Bird Society and an avian ecologist with the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre.

Chimney swifts were once common in the area. Their cigar shaped bodies with wings only touch land when nesting and roosting at night. Two decades ago, hundreds would spiral around large chimneys at Bear River's Oakdene Centre, the Annapolis Royal Community Center and Middleton Regional High School at dusk. In Wolfville, the Robie Tufts Nature Centre was created in 1990 around a large chimney that is a roosting site.

Chimney swifts make the return trip to eastern North America each year from South America’s Amazon rainforest. When they arrive at favourite spots, they stay airborne all day, eating flying insects.

As of press time, Churchill had not heard from the Town of Kentville. Check back for updates.

Organizations: Migratory Birds Convention, Blomidon Naturalists Society, Nova Scotia Bird Society Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre Oakdene Centre Annapolis Royal Community Center Middleton Regional High School Robie Tufts Nature Centre

Geographic location: Kentville, Canada, Bear River Wolfville North America South America Amazon rainforest

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