NRMP 2 – The Night the Swifts Didn’t Show and What it Really Meant

Thank you to everyone who went out on a cold, windy, damp and not especially pleasant Sunday evening to count swifts. The good news is that we have reports from 21 chimneys, a phenomenal effort given the conditions. The bad news if that only 5, yes 5, of the monitored chimneys reported an entry by Chimney Swifts. This raises the question question, is this bad news for the swifts or merely a temporary blip? We shall look into this in the coming blog.

We start our round of activities in the west and Brandon. Margaret and Millie recorded a pair entering their usual chimney and also saw a third bird in the air. New volunteer David took on a new site on Princess Street but after 3 visits has still to see activity. Further north, John Hays dropped in at the Riding Mountain Visitor Centre earlier in the week, recording entries by 2 swifts and also noted a second pair in the area. Still further north, Ken in Dauphin experienced the rare jolt of zero entries.

In Portage, Gord and co were left disappointed, zero birds in the air and no entries at the United Church and Correctional Facility. Janice had recorded entries by 5 swifts on May 15th at the church. There were also no swifts in Southport on May 27th. Mike and Michele had been experiencing much success in St Francois-Xavier this year. That is until bleak Sunday and there were no swifts around the church during the roosting hour.

In Selkirk, 7 swifts were counted entering the large stack by Gerald and Robert (hurrah). The other chimneys in the Mental Health Centre were empty. 4 swifts were noted later in the evening around the large stack but didn’t enter. Cam and Diann had seen swifts in Lac du Bonnet but again were hit by a zero count on Sunday. David in La Broquerie saw no sign of swifts, although he did count 3 swifts enter the Steinbach chimney on Friday evening.

In South Winnipeg, Blaire has monitored the church and the behavioural foundation in St Norbert with no entries, however she is seeing swifts in the evening. Frank and Jacquie did see 4  entries in 2 chimneys on Sunday evening at Providence College.

In Winnipeg there were also mixed results. Lauren trying the West End Commons site, not previously monitored for swifts saw nothing, as did John up at McDermot, Barb and Rob at the University of Manitoba and Kelly-Anne on Academy. Tim, Patricia and Marie-Eve watched  swifts appear as if from nowhere in Osborne Village around 8:46 but then trail off in a line, presumably to take up residence in a communal roost somewhere nearby. At least one of the chimneys being monitored that evening had previously had roosting swifts this year. David at Assiniboine School wrote:

I arrived at the chimney at 8:16 and immediately saw a group of 7 swifts fly over the chimney and then enter. A minute later another 7 appeared and then entered. So 14 had entered by 8:17. Shortly after at 8:20 a group I estimated at 30 began circling the school yard and it grew to about 50 but didn’t enter until 8:35 much to my consternation. I was trying to video them since I knew they would be hard to count and so I kept lifting my iPad and lowering it when they didn’t enter. When they did finally enter it was one bunch of 26 in 7 seconds and one bunch of 25 in 3 seconds. As soon as I stopped the video 3 more entered. By 8:53 104 swifts in total had entered. The last 2 entered at 9:05. Grand total 106. I mention the 104 by 8:53 because the “normal roosting hour” with sunset at 9:23, would begin at 8:53 and these birds all entered before that.’ 

So Assiniboine School had increased from 77 swifts on the 24th to 106 on the 28th. However this is well below the season peak of 210 on May 18th. Another interesting thing happened yesterday at the zoo. Tim and Patricia were giving Chimney Swift presentations to students at Assiniboine School on Monday (we’ll post photos later this week). At lunchtime, on arriving back from a quick bite to eat, there were large numbers of swifts swirling around the chimney. At 12:04, 3 swifts entered the chimney. Within a couple of minutes, around 66 had entered. So what is going on?

Firstly, this is not a new behaviour, and has been noted in Manitoba before. Ken Wainwright in Dauphin writes that:

‘A few years back, we were at a gas bar that used to be 1/2 block from the Dauphin roost in the early afternoon, weather was overcast, maybe rain in area (it was a few years back now) and we heard and then saw swifts going down the roost chimney.’

Lewis Cocks has also noted that:

‘In previous years, I’ve witnessed Chimney Swifts on several occasions flying fast and low over water at Fort Whyte Alive during “miserable” cold very windy days when some insects were emerging from the ponds.  They were accompanied by many Swallows and a few Night Hawks. It was amazing to watch them flying and especially amazing to watch them flying into the strong north wind with apparent ease.’

Barb Stewart also added some very valuable thoughts

The literature does speak to swifts withdrawing in prolonged bouts of inclement weather to roost and go into torpor. It is an energy saving mechanism. It does not surprise me at all that the swifts would try to feed today then “decide” to roost up when the lack of insects became an issue; as a reference, the City of Winnipeg uses 12 C as a threshold for spraying insecticide. 


‘In my experience, I have seen one “early” daytime entry event that was weather related. An August premigratory group in St Adolphe started grouping up in advance of a fast moving, nasty t-storm which was setting up. I made it down in time to see ~19 swifts dive into the Church. After about an hour the electricity stopped, the rain backed off, and the swifts came out.’

Finally, Rob Stewart adds this:

‘It is probably a truism, that the more you look at something the more complicated it gets. The short answer is as Barb said: it was likely too miserable to be out. But what does miserable mean?

Too cold for bugs to be flying?

Zammuto and Franks 1981 say

Weather conditions seemed to affect reentry into the roost. On cold or rainy mornings, over 90% of the swifts that left a chimney reentered it within 30 min. On these mornings, some were reentering while others were leaving. A shortage of insects in the air may also cause reentry. The number of insects in flight was likely very high at daybreak but probably declined sharply after sunrise (McClure 1938; Glick 1939, 1957). Reduced aerial prey may have caused the swifts to reenter the roost-site at sunrise (on the average of 11 min after departure) where they remained until later in the morning.

At some stage it is also likely that, bugs or no, the birds themselves can’t stay warm. Zammuto and Franks also said that some cold mornings more birds ‘returned’ than left and figured they were coming from other smaller roosts to get a better heat source (more birds).

So I don’t know the details but it makes perfect sense for the birds to go home when it is more advantageous to do so than to continue flying and a negative energy balance is the avenue for making that decision.’

It therefore appears likely that the swifts on Monday were resting due to either a lack of food, or the need to conserve energy, or both. The same explanation might explain why many of you saw few or no birds on Sunday. The likelihood is that this was indeed a blip and Thursday evening we will see a return to normality if the improved weather holds. The key may well be Assiniboine School. If numbers here drop-off markedly from Sunday then this would suggest a redistribution by many swifts to their nesting chimneys – swifts which as the paper quoted by Rob above suggests, were coming to the large roost to retain warmth. It is also very likely that for many of you, your swifts were already tucked up in their chimney for the evening and hoping for better the following day.

We will send out details of NRMP evening 3 after June 1 – for now thank you for your continued efforts on behalf of MCSI.


A Gentle Reminder

Tomorrow, Sunday May 28, is the next designated monitoring night in the National Roost Monitoring Program.

Just in case you need a reminder, watch your chimney for one hour before sunset to 1/2 hour after sunset; record the time of every entry or exit event; note the number of swifts seen during the entry and exit events.  Sunset will be 9:23 PM in Winnipeg.

The remaining observation nights are June 1, June 5, and June 9.

Happy chimney-gazing!

About last night…

National Roost Monitoring Program
Night 1 Highlights

Thank you to everyone who managed to get out last night and monitor swifts in your towns and neighbourhoods. We have had some great feedback from a number of you and some intriguing patterns are developing across Manitoba.

Before moving to last night, a quick catch-up is needed with some monitoring which was not included in the last email update. Luc in Saint-Jean-Baptiste is where we should begin. Luc has been counting swifts in that chimney for few years but last Saturday he was the recipient of a completely new experience. I will leave Luc to tell the story:

‘Just for the records, I might have missed some entries because I was distracted during the count by two police officers. Someone in town called the police saying there was a stranger parked in the church area with binoculars… I have been in town for only 17 years… Anyway, after letting them know who I was (driver’s licence and all), what I was doing and describing chimney swifts, their nesting habits and the MCSI monitoring program, they left, laughing.’

 Phew, good job Luc – and he had a single entry, possibly missing the second one due to distractions – there were 2 birds around earlier in the evening. On a related note though, we have factsheets available and copies of the windscreen notice if anyone should want these. Please let us know if you do.

 David returned to Assiniboine School on Tuesday after his Monday no-show and counted 93 swifts. It certainly looks like we are beyond the peak of that large roost – but then again, who knows what the week might bring.

Speaking of large roosts, Ken in Dauphin had 6 birds enter the roost last night, a very low number for that site and again below the recent peak. Interestingly he did have a couple of extra birds which roosted elsewhere, a rare occurrence in Dauphin. Maybe there will be a nesting pair up there in 2017? Only time will tell. Ken also managed to recruit some local geocachers to watch the chimney last night – a creative way of trying to recruit new volunteers!

To Portage and Gord and Janice had pretty similar results to Saturday, 4 birds in the air and 1 in the old MTS building. No birds used the Red River College chimney which had recently been modified.

In La Broquerie, David recorded use of both church chimneys, 2 in each. So the swifts are sticking with that smaller chimney giving hope that it might become a breeding site in 2017.

Frank and Jacquie are probably our most long distant travelers for monitoring driving from Winnipeg to Otterburne. They recorded use of all the Providence College chimneys with 5 birds in total spread across 3 chimneys. Barb and Rob also made a longer trek from their usual St Adolphe haunts to the wonders of Pembina Highway and the Rexall near the corner of McGillivray. Following a brief daylight entry in 2016 it was imperative to confirm use of this site in 2017 – and they did just that! Barb tells the story as:

‘Rob watched the chimney as I dropped my head to fill out the form. “One in” he yells. “You’re kidding me right?” I said. We had been joking about this scenario unfolding as it did the very first swift night out in 2007… no jokes here, we have documented use of the chimney tonight by 2 swifts!’


John once again counted 2  swifts enter the McDermot chimney, one of several he discovered in 2016. Unfortunately Jane was unable to detect a swift at the Deer Lodge site but there is a corvid nesting on a platform near the top of the chimney – possibly deterring swifts form the area? There were also no shows for Blaire in St Norbert and Justin and the Good News Fellowship team on St Mary’s. New volunteer Kelly-Anne struck lucky with 2 swifts on Academy with at least 5 in the air at one time. Mike and Michelle in St Francois Xavier were also delighted to catch 2 swifts entering the church chimney for the second time this year. Interestingly, their swifts were joined in the air for a while by a third bird who did not return for the roosting hour.


Finally, a group of 4 spread out over Osborne Village to try to crack the Chimney Swift conundrum in that area. What becomes very apparent is that there are a lot of chimneys – more than enough in this area and there are at least 12 swifts in the air. New volunteer Lynnea hit the jackpot at The Biltmore with a pair tucking in for the evening. Patricia at 424 River and Marie-Ève at the United Church were both unfortunate with lots of swift activity in the air but no entries. Tim however failed to see a swift enter his primary chimney at 411 Stradbrook but did pick up a new chimney, catching a 2 swifts disappear into 375 Stradbrook which happened to be behind him – either he has eyes in the back of his head or more likely he didn’t pay enough attention to his own chimney.


Thank you to everyone who has submitted monitoring information so far and if you have more to add please let us know.

The season seems to be flying by. There is more to come though. Our second NRMP date is Sunday 28th June. Let’s hope some of those zeros can be turned to swifts. Sundown will be at 9:24 (Winnipeg and Selkirk), 9:29 (Portage), 9:35 (Brandon) and 9:42 (Dauphin).


Happy swifting everyone!
– The MCSI Team

MCSI’s First Ever 200+ Count!

MCSI Early Season Swift Monitoring Night – MCSI’s First Ever 200+ Count!

Our latest blog covers the first monitoring evening of the season and looks forward at the end to the first National Roost Monitoring Program night this Wednesday.

Thanks to everyone who braved the foul weather over the last couple of days to provide some fascinating monitoring information for MCSI. The season has really got off to an incredibly good start. This weekend we are delighted to report a record roost count for Manitoba since the founding of MCSI, a new chimney and more.

We will start in Portage la Prairie. Gord Ogilvie is leading volunteer efforts again with others assisting him. On Saturday evening they counted a maximum of 4 swifts in the air. One of these entered the old MTS building, one of the 30 priority sites for 2017 and 3 went elsewhere. The Red River College chimney which had recently been modified was watched but alas was empty for the night.

Next to Souris. Katharine Schulz, following a day of monitoring wetlands and grasslands for the IBA Program around Oak Lake stepped in and checked on Murphy’s: An Irish Legacy, surely the finest name of all swift establishments. Overall there were 8 swifts in the area, with 2 entering the chimney and 6 finding another place for the night.

In St Adolphe it appears we have 6 swifts currently in residence with 2 entering the church. We already know that another pair have taken up residence in the Main Street residence leaving another couple unaccounted for. Unfortunately Blaire was not so fortunate in the St Norbert Church, with no birds currently being detected twittering around the town.

Frank and Jacquie headed to Otterburne to monitor the Providence College site. They counted 5 birds, 2 entering the ‘skinny’ chimney and 3 entering the ‘large’ chimney.

David, a long-term volunteer for MCSI in La Broquerie, scored a bonus as a single  swift entered the small chimney at the rear of the church building. This was especially good news for David who had only removed debris blocking access to this chimney in 2016. 2 swifts also roosted in the large church chimney, and another swift flew off to roost elsewhere.

In Winnipeg new volunteer Justine was delighted to count 1 swift enter the Granite Curling Club, only the second record for this building. John again monitored his McDermot site again with 2 entries, although he struck a zero on Monday evening on Princess Street, a site which had a successful nesting attempt in 2016. Chris also counted a pair using the Foodfare on Maryland on Saturday evening.

Now to the big 3 roosts. In Dauphin, Ken commented on the lateness of his swifts, all entering the roost after the official monitoring period had ended at 10:06. At least 19 entered but given he ended up counting in the dark, more might have been around.

In Selkirk, Gerald, Carol and Robert counted 3 chimneys at the Mental Health Centre on Thursday. No swifts entered the smaller of the 3 roosts but 14 did enter the large stack.

Finally for this update we come to Assiniboine School. On Thursday Jake and Adolf took up the monitoring reigns and between 9:00 and 9:25, 210 swifts entered the chimney. Fantastic and seemingly the largest recorded roost in Manitoba since MCSI began in 2006. What makes this especially interesting is that David, Adolf and Anna counted 99 on Saturday, a drop of 111 birds in just two evenings. Where did they go? Well hopefully there will be more swifts distributed across Manitoba in the nights and days to come! The story doesn’t end there though. On Monday evening David recorded this:

‘I was at the chimney from 8:45-9:30 last night. It was pretty cold windy and overcast, although by the end it was beginning to clear. Did not see 1 swift the entire time. They all roosted before 8:45 due to cold and wind?’

This is obviously very strange but David is likely spot on with his final assertion – we will surely have lots of Chimney Swifts around the school for the coming NRMP nights.

Speaking of the NRMP, Wednesday May 24th (tomorrow) is the first official NRMP night. We will be beginning at 1 hour prior to sundown (9:19 in Winnipeg, 9:21 in Selkirk, 9:24 in Portage, 9:30 in Brandon and 9:37 in Dauphin). We look forward to hearing your stories and results from this second big monitoring night of the year. If anyone still needs a site to monitor please let us know, we have some great places looking for a volunteer to watch them. There will be a couple of us in Osborne Village – and we would love to have some more help as there are plenty of possible chimneys with no regular monitors.

Happy swifting!

– Tim, Barb, Frank and the rest of the MCSI team

A New Monitoring Season Begins!

The previous year has literally flown by – and Saturday marks the beginning of Chimney Swift monitoring season for 2017! As previously blogged, we are going for an extra day at the beginning of the National Roost Monitoring Program (NRMP) and an extra day right at the end. This means we are monitoring roosts on:
  • May 20
  • May 24
  • May 28
  • June 1
  • June 5
  • June 9
Just in case you haven’t seen them yet, the instructions and monitoring forms can be downloaded below at:
​2017 swift monitoring already appears to have various people breathless​, with an impressive early build-up of numbers. Since last we blogged Crystal encountered a couple of returning swifts at her private home in St James on Sunday 14th, and Garry reported birds around the Brazier Street chimney on Tuesday the 16th.
The Selkirk birds are back with a bang as well. Winona has already recorded 2 swifts at the Merchants and on Monday 15th May, Robert Hempler counted 7 enter the large stack at the Mental Health Centre.
Chimney Swifts are also making themselves known in Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Luc counting 4 on Sunday evening at the church.
Matt also continues to keep his eyes to the rim in Carman – a swift counted entering the Memorial Hall and another entered a private address.
In Dauphin, Ken counted another 25 swifts on Tuesday 17th entering the roost on Main Street.
Assiniboine School continues to amaze and confuddle. Barb and Rob counted 98 entering on Monday evening and David was back again on Tuesday, counting 91 entering. Interestingly both are now using videos to ensure accurate counting as the fast disappearing clumps are proving difficult to keep up with.
Good luck everyone on Saturday – we hope you enjoy this first night of the season. As you can tell, the season has begun quickly and there are plenty of swifts to hopefully share across as many sites as possible!

– Tim and the MCSI Team


While the early bird may get the worm, the early arriving Chimney Swifts get counted by the dedicated volunteers who head to the chimney sides as the season starts. Thanks to the big effort by the “three big roost” teams and nest site monitors, we have a really great beginning to the 2017 data set.

On Friday, May 5th, eyes were scanning the sky in Dauphin (Tim), Selkirk (large stack; Robert and Winona), and Assiniboine School (Winnipeg; David and Adolf). It was a perfect night. No swifts were seen. Those lovely zeroes established that the Chimney Swifts had not arrived in Manitoba. As Rob says, “you can’t tell when they arrive unless you know when they haven’t been here”.

Moving on to Monday, May 8th, the conditions were ripe for our first arrivals – temperatures were increasing as were the diversity and abundance of airborne insects. Suzanne, in St Adolphe, saw a swift over the Red River during the day. In the evening at Assiniboine School, David and Adolf got soaked while watching up to 20 swifts in the area; 11 roosted for the night.

On Tuesday, May 9th, Adolf and Jake endured the deep chill as a group of 11 swifts circled the Assiniboine School roost; 8 roosted. Matt in Carman seemed to be the guy with the most swifts on Tuesday. He reported that ‘swifts appeared in Carman this week on Tuesday morning, May 9th At about 0725 hrs while getting the car ready to drive to Winnipeg, I heard Swifts calling overhead. There were about 12 or more Swifts, flying in pairs, and in threes, perhaps foraging low over the Boyne  River and Elementary School. I estimated  there were at least six such groups. I did not have time to attempt an accurate count but had the impression that the birds may have been passing through town. I saw a similar flight some years ago flying overhead.’

On Wednesday, May 10th Adolf, this time joined by Don Harms, eventually counted 5 swifts in the chimney.

The incredible St James crew were back out in numbers on Thursday, David, Adolf, Jake, Don and Annie all in place, counting 10-20 in the air at times and coming up with a total of 18 entries.
Matt in Carman was also monitoring the Memorial Hall Thursday evening. Braving the cold, he noted at 2050 and again at 2110 hrs pairs of swifts leaving the chimney. However at 2140 two swifts returned, coming in fast and entering the chimney without calling. So at least 4 around but only 2 staying in the Memorial Hall. There were no swifts observed Friday evening.

Moving along to Friday night, May 12th, Rob and Barb went back to Assiniboine School. We also faced challenging cold winds but the flock of swifts which descended was warming to watch…arriving ~8:25 PM, a low and slow flying group moved in from the west. For ½ hour, swifts moved around the area. Close to sunset, ~9:03 PM, the action started. Clumps of Chimney Swifts entered – 11, 15, 11 more – and towards the end of the roosting hour, smaller numbers dropped in. In all, we counted 83 roosting for the night. Amazing. When you are used to seeing 2 adults enter a nest site, anything more is a bonus, but to be in high, double digit territory is giddy viewing for us!
Also on Friday night, David saw 1 entry at his La Broquerie church chimney. Partners do not always arrive simultaneously at a nest site. This chimney has been used over many years, so the hope for a successful nesting season is with us.

Even security at Selkirk Mental Health Centre got in on the act earlier that same evening, reporting 5 around the big stack around supper time. Those birds were not seen later that evening. There were still 3 in the area the following evening reported by Gerald and Winona.

Back up to Dauphin for Saturday, May 13th, when Ken & Jan had their first arrivals of the season. Starting ~1/2 hour before sunset, Chimney Swifts kept arriving and circling the roost in growing numbers. Pushing curfew, entry was triggered “Finally in almost complete dark, in one dive all but 3 went down and these went down by 9:53. Due to darkness, I can only estimate that there were about 23 swifts here.”

Gord Ogilvie reported his first 4 Portage la Prairie Chimney Swifts that same evening, all flying close to the Trinity United Church.
Winona saw 5 flying around the Merchant’s Hotel in Selkirk as well with 2 entering and exiting and as of 2122 only 1 staying in the chimney.

Craig in St Boniface also reported seeing 15 around the chimney on St Josephs.
Not to be outdone, David, Adolf and Don kept up an incredible rate of monitoring and counted a flock of 45 over Assiniboine School. A grand total of 83 matching Friday evenings total.

Sunday May 14th, David, Adolf, Don and Jake returned to Assiniboine School and counted 63 birds, evidence of some sort of roost dispersal perhaps. They also noted a swift disappear into the new site discovered in 2016 – so called ‘hidden chimney’.

Beyond dedicated monitoring sessions, opportunistic observations can be useful too. On Wednesday evening, Barb heard a pounding on the outside of the house…it was a good thing to pay attention to husband Rob after sooooo many decades. Coming outside, Barb saw Rob point to the sky over the pond as he was yelling “Chimney Swift!”. The swift fed for about an hour between 6:00 – 7:00 PM. The only time swifts have been overhead at the property (1/2 way between St Adolphe and St Norbert) was during the passing of an intense storm front years ago – the swift was tucked into a group of Purple Martins that was racing by at the interface of two fronts. Saturday morning, a second home-based viewing session took place – this time a pair was feeding just over the tree tops and pond for about an hour between 9:30-10:30 AM.

The head count in St Adolphe on Saturday and Sunday was 4; no entries into chimneys have been seen. There has always been roosting swifts at night when flying swifts have been seen during the day. So, at least 1 and probably 2 chimneys have been claimed as nest sites. Daytime counts will be continued to monitor the local group size and use of the five nest chimneys. Then in late May/early June, the St Adolphe monitoring team will assemble for a multi-site, extended roosting hour session to get a head count of all the breeding adults in the community.

If your curiosity is piqued by all the early season action, and time is available, we would appreciate hearing about any swift sightings you make before the start of the National Roost Monitoring Program (NRMP).

We are closing in our official monitoring dates of May 20 (MCSI extra night-1), the NRMP nights May 24, May 28, June 1, June 5, and June 9 (MCSI extra night-2). Just a note for May 20th: it is the Saturday of the May long weekend, so everyone is very busy. If it is more convenient to check on a chimney Thursday, May 18th or Friday, May 19th that would be just fine…it is an MCSI designated night to help us better understand Manitoba arrival times and peak counts. We use data collected at ANY time of the year.
Enjoy the chimney sides in 2017!

—  Tim and Barb for the MCSI Team

They’re Back!

The good news is that we have swifts back in Manitoba. Long-term monitors at Assiniboine School, David Wiebe and Adolf Ens were uot last night (the 8th) and sent this report today:

Assiniboine School

“This evening Adolf and I thought we would once again monitor the Assiniboine chimney to see if we could secure another zero count. We arrived at 8:00 and were having some good conversation, not paying that close attention when to our surprise a small group of swifts flew in from the east over the chimney. Time was 8:23. It looked like approx 10 birds though they were gone before we could get a good look. Shortly after we saw them again, further away this time, and it looked like more than 10, maybe 15. Then a few minutes later we got a better look at the group and this time it looked more like 20. Then nothing until 8:55 when a group of 11 showed up and entered the chimney. Certainly there were more than 11 birds in that one group we had seen earlier, so some of them went somewhere else, unless they entered after 9:12 when we left.

Temperature was 14C with heavy cloud cover and a breeze 15kph from the ssw. Later there was drizzle as we ended up pretty wet, at least the side of us facing the breeze.”

Thanks David and Adolf for their sterling efforts. We should also thank them for braving the disappointment for a zero count by going out on Friday evening to check the school. On that note, Winona and Robert in Selkirk likewise monitored the large stack with no success and Tim, giving Ken and Jan a well deserved night off had zero in Dauphin.

Now the real fun begins….