Species: Swift of Vaux, or chaetura vauxi
Family: Apodidae (Swifts)
Astrological sign: Pisces
Ideal date: Join the Mile High Club
A few weeks ago, between one day and the next, the weather on our lovely campus went from hot and sunny to cold and rainy – as if God himself had realized he had forgotten to press the “autumn weather” button and slammed it at the last minute. . And as we say hello to long nights and misty skies, we also say goodbye to our little glider neighbour, the Martinet des Vaux. You may not have noticed this friend, but during the summer months he is ubiquitous, hovering in the air above our heads, nothing but a tiny black silhouette against the clear blue sky. . This flighty companion feeds on tiny insects that buzz through the atmosphere at the rate of thousands a day.
What makes swifts like Monsieur Vaux so special is that they don’t just fly through the air, but inhabit it. According to an article by Audubon, the Common Swift, a species found in Afro-Eurasia, is able to stay aloft for up to ten months at a time while feeding on insects in sub-Saharan Africa! TEN MONTHS!!! That’s longer than it takes for babies to be born! Although our humble Vaux Swift is not as impressive as its common cousin, our local friend still spends most of its time zooming through the atmosphere when not nesting or roosting. And yes: that includes during sex.
The Vaux Swift is considered by scientists to be roughly the Western version of another very similar North American Swift, the Chimney Swift. Chimney Swifts (whose name comes from the fact that they like to roost in chimneys) are found east of the Rockies, while our own Vaux Swifts are found west of the Rockies. Unlike his friend Chimney, the Vaux Man prefers to roost in the hollowed-out centers of trees in old-growth evergreen forests, according to All About Birds. Vauxies also stand out as the smallest swifts in North America – admittedly, that’s by a pretty small margin, but nonetheless, what cool little guys! But these little swifts live in large groups when they breed and migrate, according to Birds of the World, and there are record cases of these individuals roosting together in the same tree at night in the hundreds!
In fact, speaking of roosts – one of the biggest known roost sites for these flying guys is right here in Portland! Since the 1980s, a chimney at Chapman Elementary School in northeast Portland has served as a resting place for thousands of migrating Vaux Swifts! In September, when the Swifties pass through the area, hundreds of eager birdwatchers will gather around Chapman Elementary in the evening to watch the black swarm of tiny little Swiftie guys gathered to enter the chimney. Chapman Elementary itself has worked hard to help the birds have a cozy and comfortable vacation home. In the 90s, when the chimney was still being used to evacuate the fumes from the school furnace, they delayed turning on their heating system until later. mid-october to avoid flushing out the birds (today the school has a new heating system with a different chimney, without a nesting box). Wow! What an admirable will to freeze for the sake of your feathered neighbors!