So how do you count a swirling mass of thousands? It’s easy: just count the wings and divide by two! (Dad joke, sorry.) Actually, counts are conducted by a team of two trained observers who meet at the site before sunset and settle into a perch with a good view of the action. One observer locks their binocular view onto the chimney rim and readies a hand-held clicker counter. As the birds drop in, this observer clicks for each block of 10 swifts. The second observer keeps a birds-eye view on the sky, scanning for raptors and documenting any predation events. They also inform their teammate of new flocks forming or leaving, and record all the data. It takes practice, especially at the peak of migration when swifts can number up to 15,000! Our awesome volunteer corps is up to the task.
If you are interested in Portland Audubon’s swift counts, this infographic contains a useful summary of our annual efforts. Our counting teams are established for the 2019 season, but we welcome (and train!) new volunteers every year. You can follow along with the action as we post our nightly swift counts at Chapman to the website.