The Chapman Chimney

Swifts and Chimneys

Vaux’s Swifts are diurnal (daytime) migrants and each evening during migration they seek a safe, communal night-roost. Before chimneys dotted their landscape, the swifts used dead but still-standing hollow trees that were once much more abundant in our forests.

The Chapman roost is one of many sites that an individual swift will sleep in during migration and is one of many human-made roost sites to choose from while passing through the Portland area. Taken together, these roost sites provide a critical resource for Vaux’s Swifts.

Swift Watch, photo by Karen Munday

The Chapman Chimney Project

Swifts began using the Chapman chimney as a roost site in the late 1980s. For years, Chapman students and staff helped protect their school’s colony of swifts by waiting to turn on the furnace until after the swifts migrated south. Some years the swifts didn’t leave until mid-October, so everyone had to bundle up to stay warm. And as any teacher will tell you, you can’t teach a cold kid anything.

In 2000, Bird Alliance of Oregon stepped in to help the school by raising money to renovate Chapman’s chimney and heating system. Thanks to generous contributions from the Collins Foundation, Metro Central Enhancement Grant Committee, and Autzen Foundation, the project raised more than $60,000. Northwest Natural Gas helped by providing engineering expertise.

In 2001, the Chapman heating system was converted from oil to natural gas with a new chimney installed for the gas furnace. This preserved the old chimney for the swifts. In 2003, the chimney was brought up to current earthquake safety codes with seismic stabilization, which you can see outside of the chimney. The final stage of the project was to enhance awareness and understanding of the swifts. Bird Alliance of Oregon developed an education program for Chapman students and staff so they could better understand their avian neighbors. This program can also travel to other schools.

We extend our thanks to Portland Public Schools and the staff of Chapman School for their many hours of work on this project and for their sincere commitment to preserving the Vaux’s Swift. They are truly community scientists who engage in Bird Alliance of Oregon’s concept of living with urban wildlife, which helps make our community a special place to live.