From Our President: April Brings Vaux’s Swifts Back to Agate Hall

As most of you know, the chimney of Agate Hall on the University of Oregon campus is an ecologically significant migratory stopover for tens of thousands of Vaux’s Swifts during the spring and fall months. During last year’s fall migration, over 45,000 birds were counted entering the chimney. The number is not a total of the birds that might have used it, because counts were done only weekly and sporadically. (If we had volunteers to do daily counts, the numbers would be far higher.) Agate Hall is included on the Vaux’s Happening website as one of the most active Vaux’s Swift roost sites. (See www.vauxhappening.org/Vauxs_Happening_Home.html for more information.)

 

Agate Hall was built in the 1920s and is a designated historic structure that is likely eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. We would like to encourage the university to assign the Agate Hall chimney an official status to preserve it as important habitat for the migrating Vaux’s Swifts. The decommissioned chimney is a valuable structure that offers many potential educational opportunities as well as positive public recognition that the university community could find beneficial. I envision an educational plaque that informs and educates people about the ecological value of this structure. Students could use the site to study animal behavior and learn data analysis techniques using counts of the birds at the chimney. The university can gain public acclaim through these actions and, if needed, could leverage donations for maintaining the chimney.

 

The chimney does require maintenance. The university cleaned it last November to remove 20 years of bird droppings—the residue was leaching through a metal door. An outside contractor found nearly 18 feet of bird guano, bagged it, and took it to the dump. They also needed to make sure that the structural integrity of the building and chimney had not been affected by the bird droppings. The bricks and structure appeared intact in interior photos of the chimney taken after the cleaning. The university accomplished another big maintenance chore in the early 1990s when they installed earthquake supports for the chimney. We thank the university for these important improvements.

During evenings in the spring and fall, hundreds of people watch the natural spectacle of the Vaux’s Swifts entering the chimney at dusk. Birding tourists arrive by the vanful, teachers bring their young students, locals bring out-of-town visitors, and families with children of all ages come to watch the swifts.

Lane Audubon would like to encourage the university to label the Agate Hall chimney with information placards declaring it an ecologically important structure for migrating Vaux’s Swifts. We would like a commitment from the university to maintain the chimney so it can continue to be a dependable migration stopover for the Vaux’s Swifts and an enhancement to our human community. We will be working on this proposal and will keep you posted. If anyone wants to help, that would be great!

To see a video of the birds using the chimney, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TT07lAdNaM.