One of the largest flocks of Vaux’s swifts in North America expected to descend upon Monroe

Thousands of Vauxs Swifts come to sleep at Frank Wagner Elementary School in Monroe each year. The event has become famous among bird watchers.

MONROE, Wash. — Every evening at dusk, typically from late August and into September, thousands of Vaux sails circle the chimney of Frank Wagner Elementary School in Monroe. The birds fly in a circular motion, then descend into an old chimney to perch.

It’s a spectacle that the Pilchuck Audubon Society has turned into an annual event called Swifts Night Out.

The event is free to the public and offers families the opportunity to witness one of the largest herds of Vaux sailors in North America.

Swift’s Night Out has been on hiatus for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s back in 2022.

“I look forward to experiencing a true Swifts Night Out in person,” said Brian Zinke, executive director of the Pilchuck Audubon Society.

In the first year the Audubon Society hosted a nighttime swift event, they estimated that 14,000 swifts entered the brick chimney at Frank Wagner Elementary School.

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“It’s a thrill. It’s almost addictive,” said Larry Schwitters, who directs the Audubon Society’s Vaux’ Happening project.

Schwitters said his passion was studying the Vaux swifts. The birds spend the winter in Mexico and Central America, migrating north in the summer to take advantage of the long daylight hours farther from the equator.

Vaux’s swifts have traditionally made their home in old, dead, hollowed out trees, but with larger towns and fewer forests, these are few.

“So they learned to settle into chimneys, brick chimneys, old chimneys that were built before 1940 and didn’t have a liner, so they could hook their claws and hang themselves in there,” Schwitters explained. “Now there aren’t many of those left, especially in the earthquake area.”

The town of Monroe happens to be on the migration trail and has the perfect old brick chimney at Frank Wagner Elementary School that attracts thousands of birds to the area each year.

“You don’t see that everywhere and not every day of the year,” says Zinke. “It’s a specific time, and it’s really a spectacle to see so many birds flying into one place at the same time.”

In previous years there has been a Swift Night Out in September, but the Vaux-Swifts have been arriving around mid-August for a number of years. This year, the Audubon Society has decided to move the event to August 20th to try to match the peak season for their arrival.

But no Vaux-Swifts had been seen up the chimney as of Thursday evening.

“Wild animals are wild. We cannot predict them. We’re still learning,” said Zinke. “We’ve been conducting this survey for 14 years now and we’ve learned a lot, but there’s so much more to learn about it. Just when we think we figured them out, they surprise us.”

Schwitters has followed the arrival of the swifts at other well-known roosting sites in Washington state. They saw 500 arrive at a chimney in Selleck and 56 arrived near Mount Rainier on Thursday.

The Pilchuck Audubon Society officially announced the start of migration across the Pacific Northwest based on these numbers.

A Swift Night Out happens no matter how many birds there are. You will have a presentation, information stands and fun activities for children.

The event begins on Saturday, August 20th at 4 p.m. in the Frank Wagner Elementary School.

Spectators can also see the inside of the chimney. A camera streams live as thousands of birds pile in like clapboards.

Click here for more information.

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