It’s a romantic, summer-sunset sway and at the same time a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Roseburg’s Vaux swift migration is one of the most unique birding events in Western North America as anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 small birds descend at dusk into an old chimney at the Umpqua Valley Arts Center in this synchronized swim of the sky.
Vaux’s swifts make a very long migration from the Pacific Northwest and Canada to Central and South America for the winter, and in spring head back north. During this migration, the birds make roosting pit-stops.
According to the Umpqua Audubon Society, the swifts enjoy roosting in old growth coniferous snags, but are often found making do with industrial chimneys that were built before or around 1940.
Lucky for the Umpqua Valley, they play host to a favorite migrational hotel for the annual swifts. It is a sight not to be missed and definitely road-trip worthy to come experience.
The show starts as the audience watches quietly, eyes glued, awaiting the first bird to descend. The sky is sprinkled with little, chirping black dots, dancing and swirling. The dispersed group of swifts then begin to tighten in a tornado-like cluster above the chimney. The crowd erupts like fireworks as they see the first swift dive in the chimney. One spectator referred to this moment as the “start horn of the race.”
After that moment, a mysteriously-coordinated large mass of birds continues to twist and turn in a cyclone as a few birds at a time trickle down the chimney to claim their spot - clinging to the vertical surface.
Although the Vaux swift is a song bird and most closely related to the hummingbird, unlike its relatives, the swift cannot perch. The Vaux swift must cling vertically, using its stiff tail like a kickstand to finally rest.
After about five minutes and a few latecomers, the birds settle in and the audience applauds. At sunrise, the swifts spill out of the chimney like rushing water.
A sea of spectators are usually found spread out across The Clay Place parking lot in the Fir Grove section of Stewart Park Friday evenings during migration month. The Vaux swift migration typically makes its way through Roseburg at the end of August and lasts through September. These Friday evenings are also accompanied by activities, music and learning for the whole family.
The Umpqua Valley Audubon Society highly suggests visitors come early in September for the best showing of birds. The Audubon Society, in partnership with the Roseburg Parks and Recreation Division, hosts the swift watch and Audubon members are onsite to answer questions.
For more information, visit umpquaaudubon.org.
TAKE UP UMPQUA VALLEY BIRDING FOR THE PERFECT OUTDOOR, SOCIALLY-DISTANCED ACTIVITY
Getting outside and exploring nature is good for the mind and body, especially during high-stress times like we are in. Birding can be one of the best ways to engage the whole family in the outdoors without needing much experience or equipment. Just pack a picnic and some binoculars.
Much education isn’t required either. The Audubon Bird Guide app has got you covered. Available for iPhones and Androids, this free app is a complete field guide to more than 800 species of North American birds. Features include an easy bird ID to help you identify a bird, information on birds and a sightings feature which can track your bird sightings and others’ bird sightings.
The Umpqua Valley is an amazing place to start your birding adventure or continue it.