So here’s the deal. Every September thousands of Vaux’s Swifts come to Portland. They spend their days eating lots of bugs. In the late afternoon the Swifts begin flying in a giant undulating swirl in the sky about the school. Around sunset they swirl more tightly, like a ground pepper tornado, and begin disappearing, measure by measure, down the chimney. On the lawn below, hundreds of Portlanders gather on lawn chairs and blankets to stare at the sky, mesmerized. Boos erupt when opportunistic Peregrine falcons occasionally get lucky. The crowd cheers, however, when the predators are thwarted. Meanwhile unruly oblivious children scream and roll down the grassy hill.
Seriously, though, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Read Heather’s excellent account of our first visit in 2008, and mine from 2009. Here’s a quick video Heather captured of the birds in action in 2009:
The Audobon Society of Portland maintains the Swift Watch webpage, which includes details on the best times to show up, explanations of the phenomena, and an FAQ answering all your questions on the natural history of the phenomena, the bird counts, and sundry. Oregon Field Guide did a segment on the Vaux Swifts a decade ago, and there’s even a movie, called On The Wing.