Vaux’s swifts in town, viewable near sunset downtown

By Kaynor Heineck

The fall Vaux’s (voxes) swift migration is under way in Lebanon, with hundreds of swifts forming “swift tornados” as they enter their roosting spot each evening around 6 – 7 p.m.

They usually roost in the Lebanon Hotel (viewed from the alley between Main and Park and Ash and Sherman) chimney, although occasionally they will use the chimney at 2nd and Grant Streets instead.

Vaux’s swifts migrate north in the fall and south again each fall, taking their babies back to Central America. During migration, large flocks circle roost sites until they abruptly pour out of the sky like a tornado to enter a chimney or hollow tree. The most counted in Lebanon were 3,200 in 2010. Fall migration will soon be over, and then they will be mostly absent until spring.

Vaux’s swifts spend most of their waking hours aloft, hunting insects. Swifts fly fast, erratically and almost continuously They cannot perch like other birds, but instead have to cling to or hang from a rough surface.

Once they reach their breeding grounds, swifts build nests by breaking off twigs from trees in mid-flight. The nest is pasted to the inside of a hollow tree or chimney with the bird’s sticky saliva. It is harder to find older forests which contain old, hollow trees, so chimneys have become essential for the swifts to survive migration.

If you’d like to witness a “swift tornado,” now is the time to do it (until next spring, that is).