Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Swift Release

Hipster Birders would like to sincerely apologize for the long hiatus. Yes, we're still alive and well. Lots of exciting things and changes have been happening recently, so Nick and I should be getting back on track to bring you birding joy. Recently, I've gone from working 7 days a week at two part-time jobs to actually starting a full-time career. Both jobs were awesome - working as a Naturalist at a state park and working at Wild Birds Unlimited. But those 7-day work weeks left me with no time to write posts! And every other minute I had available, we were birding. As a good birding friend and blogger stated so well, we were too busy having fun to have time to write about it! 

Preparing the final hand-fed meal for the baby Chimney Swifts

Hello there!

Feeding some crickets

 Well, as we get back into the swing of things, I must share a recent experience that left our hearts aglow. As I mentioned in a previous post, my manager at Wild Birds Unlimited is a volunteer rehabber that takes care of orphaned baby birds. I had the good fortune of watching these sweet begging babies, and even getting to help with feeding them. But the most awesome advantage of getting to share in orphan bird care was to help release baby birds. And one of the greatest things one can ever do is release a baby Chimney Swift. My manager let Nick and I tag along and participate on a release. And a few weeks later, she actually let me take home 3 swifts to release that evening.

A wink and a smile ;-)

Om nom nom!

That evening, I fed the babies a couple more times, with some plump juicy crickets (yum!), as they anxiously awaited their release. One in particular was ready and rearing to go. He didn't want to be fed and he swooped out of their baby basket at any chance he got. Luckily I have a screened-in porch so he couldn't get away. And I've been told that once baby birds are ready to go, they sometimes don't want to be fed as they are ready to take on their independence. 
Just a basket full of Swifts

Ready to go!

After their last feeding, I tucked the swifts back into their basket. On the car ride over to their release spot, Nick pointed out how these babies were bilingual - making their begging baby chatter as well as that familiar Chimney Swift chittering.

Dreaming of what it's gonna be like to fly freely

Nick holding a baby swift

Long wings ready for flight

So what's so special about releasing Chimney Swifts versus other birds? Well, it's all in the technique. With these saber-winged beauties, you have to wait until they've grown to the right size, not only their bodies, but their wings. A trick is to see that when the swifts perch, their wings cross each other. That way you know they are long enough for the almost constant flight they do during the day. Then the magic comes when you actually release them. You look for an open area where other swifts are flying about. In particular, my manager has found that this one area, which is actually an old orphanage for boys, now turned into an academy for boys, that has large open fields as well as plenty of chimneys where these guys roost at night is an ideal location.

Waiting for a group of adults to come

Not quite yet... 

So, we go out to this area and wait - wait for a good number of adult Chimney Swifts to fly directly overhead. Then with a quick motion, you toss up the baby swift like a tennis ball up into the air, and as it slightly struggles to get used to being in flight, the adults notice this baby's wobbly flight, and all of a sudden, they come from all around to escort and help the baby figure out how to move and where to go. You'll see a group of about 6-10 adults at first, and then it multiplies to about 20-30 adults as they congregate to lead and follow the baby helping him gain his bearings. It is truly one of the most magical things one can ever witness.

Ready, Set... 


As we released each baby, one at a time, we cheered as each one took off like a rocket and then gained the support of dozens of adults as they soared and swooped above us. I'd yell cheerfully, "Help him, help him! Go, go go!!!" And they did. I really can't describe into words that fleclemped feeling you get when you get to be a part of something so amazing. 

Nick's turn to release a swift. I love how they're both looking the same direction.

Nick says farewell to whom he fondly named "Jonathan Swift"

Up, up, and away! You can see the swift just above the top, middle window.

Off he goes.

One of the several adults coming down to escort the newbie.

This was a moment we will truly cherish for the rest of our lives. We bid farewell to our small feathered friends and wished them all the best in their life on the wing. Now every time I see one fly over, I think and wonder if this may be one of the little ones that I had a hand in helping. And that makes me smile. =)

Releasing the final swift.

Farewell, my sweet swift!


  1. This was a sweet post Maureen, truly spectacular and touching.

    Swifts are such an unusual bird to be close to in the wild, it must've been really marvelous to feed them, and then that feeling with the release, that sense of camaraderie and care with the release...pretty awesome.

    Glad you all are doing well and staying hip. Although...two hipsters with full-time jobs?? Are y'all still being full time hipsters too or just on the weekends now?

    Thanks again for this great read.

    P.S. I was hoping to make a Jonathan Swift joke/reference in the comments when I read the title, but I see Nicholas has it covered already. He's too swift.

    1. Thanks, Laurence! We're still hipsters... We're just hipsters all grown up =)

  2. LOVE this post!!!! What a wonderful memory to have. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. I got misty-eyed just reading this! What a wonderful experience! Good luck little birdies!

    1. Awww, Kelli. I'm glad I could convey the heart-warming moment. =)

  4. Glad to see you posting again . Have followed you since you were in south florida.
    Two old birders
    Lauren and Cindy

    1. Oh, thank you! Thanks so much for your patronage. We really do appreciate our regular readers. =)