Chimney swifts are a common sight in plenty of locales, but Los Angeles is currently host to the migratory Vaux’s swift (Chaetura vauxi). Thousands of birds make their L.A. pit stop en route to Central America. For now.
Vaux’s Swift Stop-Over in Los Angeles
Los Angeles’ Audubon posted a breathtaking Facebook video featuring hundreds of Vaux’s swifts (perhaps even thousands) gracing the air. The organization planned its Vaux’s swift returns celebration for September 24, 2010 and urged attendees to bring along a pair of binoculars.
Of course, for the migratory swifts, L.A. is only a pit stop on a larger tour that takes them from Canada all the way to the warm climate of Central America. This display would go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of downtown Los Angeles, were it not for die-hard bird lovers and environmentalists who enjoy pointing out the brief presence of these birds.
In Search of the Migratory Swift
Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) explains all was not well for Vaux’s swift when a building and its chimney, which was a favorite for the migrating birds, was torn down. Years went by and finally local bird watchers found the new locale where the swifts are choosing to stay. Those interested in watching the spectacle first hand are invited to climb up to the top floor of Joe’s Auto Park at 440 South Broadway (it’s right next to the Chester Williams).
Must-know Facts about Vaux’s Swift, Ravens and the Circle of Life in L.A.
Almost always flying in large groups, the swifts seek out areas near water where insect populations thrive. Those unschooled in ornithological matters might mistake the birds for nighthawks, but Whitman College points out that Vaux’s swifts are much smaller than the hawks. What makes these birds such an amazing sight is the way they prey on insects while in flight. Multiply this sight by hundreds or thousands, and it is truly a display to behold.
As quoted by SCPR, the Los Angeles Audubon advises that just one swift has the ability to “feed on about 20,000 insects a day.” For Angelenos who eye the L.A. River and its mosquito population with disfavor, this is welcome news. Of course, this sudden influx of migratory swifts is also welcome news to the local raven population.
The L.A. Times reported back in spring that onlookers were treated to a display of swifts entering the Chester chimney right around 7:30 p.m., when ravens began seeking them out for their own dinners. Quoting the Los Angeles Audubon spokeswoman, the going metaphor for the spectacle was that of bears snapping up salmon swimming in a stream.
It is likely that this mid-air dance of insects, swifts and ravens will continue for about a month, when the Vaux’s swifts continue on their trip south. Unless this chimney, too, is torn down and replaced with a non-brick but earthquake-safe replacement, the birds might just be back next year.