Swift Night Out in Farmington Hills, Michigan

By: Jeremy Hatt

Written for The Egret – Volume 34 – Number 4 – December 2018

Each year, the Detroit Audubon Society holds a Swift Night Out at the “Swift Sanctuary” at 31505 Grand River Avenue in Farmington Hills, Michigan. In 2018, the event was held on September 22 and eight ECFNC members attended. The group carpooled in two vehicles from Windsor.

The “Swift Sanctuary” is a historic winery with an enormous chimney towering high above the building. Up to 50,000 Chimney Swifts have been recorded entering in one evening in the past. We were excited to see high numbers of swifts since no sites in Essex County have even recorded over 1,000 birds.

“Swift Sanctuary” – Photo by Jeremy Hatt

This Swift Night Out is a very well-run event. When we arrived around 6:00pm, there was a band setting up to play for the evening, a large group of people already sitting in lawn chairs with binoculars, drinks, and snacks, and a table with Detroit Audubon Society merchandise and information.

Since it was our first time attending, we went to speak with a volunteer to get some more information and we were told that the numbers of swifts entering that evening may not be as high as usual. The event would go on as usual, but we were given a second location nearby that we could visit where high numbers of roosting Chimney Swifts had been reported that week. After a quick deliberation, we all agreed that we were keen to see large numbers of swifts so we left the event and headed over to Botsford Commons, a retirement community at 21450 Archwood Circle, Farmington Hills.

Chimney Swifts entering Botsford Commons – Photo by Jeremy Hatt

As soon as we arrived around 6:35pm, about 100 swifts were already circling in the area above the main retirement home building, which had a large chimney in its center. It became evident that the staff at the retirement home was familiar with the swifts so we had no problem finding a comfortable spot to observe the swifts entering without being asked to leave the property. I don’t think any of us were prepared for the spectacle we were about to witness.

For the first hour, not much activity took place and we began to wonder if maybe a lot of the Chimney Swifts that roosted at these sites had already moved through. Then around 7:35pm, things started to get exciting. Chimney Swifts began streaming in. By 7:45 thousands of swifts filled the sky above us forming a large cyclone of birds that circled the chimney continuously as groups of birds dropped in at each pass. We watched in awe at this spectacle, all happening in front of a stunning pink and orange sunset.

It was difficult to tell how many swifts there were but we conservatively estimated about 5,000 birds entering the chimney. I admit that I didn’t focus too much on getting an accurate count as I decided to just enjoy the show of seeing this many Chimney Swifts together, the most any of us had ever seen at one time.

Thank you to Carl Maiolani and Donny Moore for carpooling the group across the border.

Quick video of Chimney Swifts entering Botsford Commons on Donny Moore’s open Facebook page, Donny Moore Photography:  https://www.facebook.com/donnymoorephotography/videos/2206545482955730/

Group selfie (left to right): Jeremy Hatt, Donny Moore, Gerry Kaiser, Carl Maiolani, Paula O’Rourke, Denise Hartley, Timothy Shortridge

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