The group is committed to protecting the chimneys in the Ann Arbor area from migratory birds

ANN ARBOR, MI – They call themselves the Chimney Swift Guardians and their job is to protect the habitat of a species of migratory bird that is declining in numbers.

Washtenaw Audubon Society members have launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the importance of saving large industrial chimneys that are popular resting places for chimney sweeps.

“There aren’t too many natural phenomena of this magnitude that we can observe in our own town, where thousands of chimney sweeps can be seen in one place in the fall,” said Johannes Postma, a Chimney Swift Guardian in Ann Laube. “It’s such a great thing to see.”

In recent years the chimney sweeps on the “Red List” of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources have developed from “almost threatened” to “endangered” – one step ahead of “endangered”.

To keep them from disappearing, the Chimney Swift Guardians are on a mission to protect large chimneys from demolition.

The Audubon Society has worked for the past several years to get the city of Ann Arbor to show an interest in saving the nearly century-old chimney at 415 W. Washington St.. There, the natural spectacle of a large number of swifts coiling up the chimney can best be seen between August and October, after which the swifts migrate back to South America.

Two more chimneys have been demolished in Ypsilanti since the 415 W. Washington St. Campaign “without even having them on our radar,” said Cathy Theisen, one of the Audubon Society members behind the new Chimney Swift Guardians campaign. which spreads across the county.

A group called the Chimney Swift Guardians have identified this old chimney at 415 W. Washington St. in Ann Arbor as one of several quick chimney rest stops it wants to protect.Ryan Stanton | The Ann Arbor News

Members of the Audubon Society who live in different parts of Washtenaw County have signed up as guardians to keep an eye on the local news and report on possible demolitions, Theisen said.

The guards so far include John Farmer from Milan, Kristen Garlock from Saline, Dan Blower from Ypsilanti and Postma from Ann Arbor. You still need a guardian in Chelsea.

They are working on putting up educational signs at well-known rest areas to alert residents to the rest chimneys in their communities and, hopefully, get people to report possible demolitions before they enter, Theisen said, noting that they are attending owners turn to put up signs.

For example, they are working on installing one along the border-to-border path next to 1200 N. Main St., which is an old industrial building with a large sleeping fireplace.

“It’s also along the river, which I think is a plus for chimney sweeps as there are usually more insects above the water so it’s close to an area where they can also feed,” Postma said.

Some of the other chimneys in Ann Arbor that the group wants to protect are at Mack School, Burns Park, the University of Michigan’s Intramural Sports Building, and the Bethlehem United Church of Christ.

The Swifts are moving so they can stay in a certain chimney in a year but not the next year, Postma said.

“They seem to like beautiful, reasonably tall brick chimneys,” he said.

The resting chimneys provide spring and fall gathering points before and after the migration, and the volume of the Swifts helps keep them warm during the “shoulder” season, Theisen said. Other chimneys are used for nesting.

“The Swifts will be returning here in early May. Only use chimneys for a short time before spreading out to individual chimneys for nesting, 1-2 pairs per chimney,” she said. “Homeowners should try to keep their chimneys open so they can nest over the summer. In late summer, they will gather again in sleeping chimneys to congregate and migrate south. “

Theisen, the Audubon Society’s conservation chair, said anyone interested in learning about the Chimney Swift Guardians or knowing a place to post a sign can contact them at [email protected]

Those interested can also visit the Audubon Society website to volunteer for Swift Nights Out in August, when the group counts Swifts every year, Theisen said.

Postma, who grew up in the Netherlands, said bird watching has been a lifelong hobby of his and that he participates in the annual quick chimney counts in the area.

“We identify a number of chimneys that house chimney sweeps and then assign people to count the chimney sweeps that are in that particular chimney for three consecutive days to get an idea of ​​how many chimneys are actually in town, “he said.

“And that number varies between 2,000 and maybe even 5,000. I saw a chimney where we counted about 1,500. It is just a fantastic sight to see them descend into the chimney at nightfall. And that’s a sight that we want to protect. “

The chimney’s rapid concentrations in the city depend on the breeding opportunities, Postma added.

“And when people have chimneys that lock them up, they can’t be used by chimney catchers, so they have fewer hatching places for them,” he said, adding that chimney sweeps are pretty harmless and cause minimal clutter.

Chimney sweeps have historically been housed in hollow trees, but heavy logging pressures in the early 1900s resulted in a population decline, and chimney sweeps have since adapted to an urban lifestyle and colonized chimneys.

Farmer, the Chimney Swift Guardian in Milan, said it was terrifying to think about the devastation of the natural world since the human population has tripled in his lifetime.

The fragmentation of the natural ecosystem is very present in his mind and the same man-made loss of habitat that leads to the sixth mass extinction is happening in all areas of the biosphere today, he said.

“The same overuse of resources that has weakened the chimney with shrinking spots for building nests and raising their young is reducing the population size of most game species,” he added.

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