May 21st, 2011

Gowanus Chimney Swift Tower Rendering

The chimney swift is small, insect eating bird na­tive to the Eastern United States. In pre-colonial times, this bird lived in the hollow spaces of dead trees. As European settlers spread across their range, cutting down trees and replacing forests with cities, swifts were able to adapt and found a new niche for itself, learning to live in smoke stacks and chimneys. Over the last fifty years, swifts have again faced habitat loss as viable nesting sites have begun to disappear, and chimney swift numbers have been in slow decline.

Swift nesting site in Oregon

We are building a chimney swift nesting tower along the canal to attract new birds to the neighborhood. A strong local swift population will help to control the summer swarms of mosquitoes, gnats, and flies.

Nest inside a tower in Texas

The tower is modified by a design from the Driftwood Wildlife Association in Texas, which has been doing chimney swift research for decades. The tower is constructed of  a plywood tube with ridges facing inward, giving the swifts a place to perch and attach their nests. The plywood is surrounded by a layer insulation to keep the swifts cool in the hot summer sun. The outside layer of folded metal cladding will help the tower blend in to the industrial aesthetic of the Gowanus neighborhood.

An amazing volunteer effort of many minds and hands has raised the tower from the concrete foundation to its full height of 14 feet, and the only work that remains is installing the folded metal cladding on the outside, which will be completed in the next few weeks. Hopefully by next summer a family of  swifts will have moved in and the neighborhood will be filled with their darting flight and twittering calls.

Tower footing
Raising the tower. Volunteers! Construction! Awesome!
On the banks of the canal

Thank you to everyone who has helped make the tower a reality, especially John Rowden at NYC Audubon for giving us the initial idea.

A very special thanks goes to the Aguayo Realty Group in Park Slope for sponsoring the tower. While its a little different from the real estate they are typically involved in, the tower is  an ambitious project that couldn’t have been completed without their support.