Have You Seen the Swifts?

Birds freak me out. They seem unpredictable, they can swoop at your head and they poop on you at random. I’ve had a few bad experiences. So when Matt told me he wanted to go watch the swifts, it took some convincing. I decided the kids would love it and I could put aside my small phobia for an hour to go watch something that many people never get to see in person.

In case you don’t know about the swifts you can read about them here in more detail. In short, every year in late August, one of Portland’s most spectacular natural events begins: Thousands of Vaux’s Swifts gather in the city as they prepare to migrate to Central America and Venezuela.

Migrating swifts often use chimneys as roosts, and they are likely to return to the same roost year after year. One swift population has been returning to the Chapman chimney since the 1980s, and it is one of the largest known roosting sites of migrating Vaux’s Swifts. There can be anywhere from 2,000-30,000 of them.

We took a picnic dinner, sat on the grass with several thousand other onlookers and waited for the birds to arrive. As if from out of no where they start coming in and circling. They circled for about 30 minutes before starting to fly into the chimney on the school. It was insane. How they fly around with that many thousands of other birds and then all make it into that chimney is a mystery to me. One of the funniest parts is that occasionally a hawk will fly into the group of birds and try to pick one out of the group. (Except while chasing a hawk away they swooped really low and I about cried and wet myself, ducking to the blanket like a little girl; oh the horror.) The whole crowd begins to gasp and cheer on the swifts as literally, the whole group of birds turns and takes after the hawk with a vengeance. It’s pretty amazing how they all worked together to get rid of the danger. In the end, the hawk managed to capture a poor little swift and carry it away for dinner. I’m sure at great cost to the hawk because it got the crap beat out of it by the thousands of swifts chasing it’s tail.

When I get to witness things like this in nature it reminds me how incredible God is, how creative, how he loves to wow the world with small things such as birds, how he is the ultimate provider (He provides a shelter for birds, in a chimney, that holds 40,000 of them), and how small we are in the large scheme of things.

If you’re around Portland, go to the Chapman school and check out the swifts. It’s fascinating (and a little terrifying).

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