Chimney Swift club

Chimney Swift photography/videography project at Irving Middle School


The large brick chimney that expels steam from the heating system at Irving Middle School also provides a nesting colony and huge roosting flock of chimney swifts, a neo-tropical migrant species that spends its summers in the Upper Midwest and winters in the upper Amazon Basin of Brazil.

Often described as “flying cigars” these thick bodied, bommerang-shaped birds spend days on the wing eating insects and will forage sometimes several thousand feet in the air during their daily movements. Near sundown, the swifts will return to the chimney forming large cyclonic clouds that funnel back down into the chimney to roost and feed their young. Inside, they roost by clinging to the mortar of the interior walls, or sit on their tiny, tea-cup sized nests that are anchored by twigs and saliva.

The Work

We have installed three small cameras that together will capture both video clips and still images of swifts around and within the perimeter of the chimney opening. These remotely controlled cameras will help us document the lives of these secretive creatures during their stay in the heart of the city of Lincoln between late spring and early fall.

Click HERE to visit the still photography page. We will add new photos as they become available.

An Evening and Morning with Chimney Swifts from Michael FORSBERG on Vimeo.

The Payoff

This small natural history photo project will provide an intimate glimpse into the lives of these far flung birds. The resulting video and still images will be posted on a web page available to teachers and students at Irving Middle School. There are many aspects of the project that fit very well with all three grade levels of science: 6th grade—Weather/Climate; 7th grade—Environmental Science, ecosystems of animals and biodiversity; 8th grade—Forces, Motion and Energy. This project will help forward science and understanding of a bird in our own community that connects habitats throughout the Western Hemisphere and gives us an opportunity to learn more and build appreciation for the wildlife among us.

The People

Jeff Dale, he and his Lincoln based camera technology company, will provide the technical and installation support

Mary Bomberger Brown, University of Nebraska – Lincoln professor of Ornithology (and former Irving Middle School graduate), will provide the science support and natural history interpretation

Michael Forsberg, Lincoln-based conservation photographer (and who has one daughter currently at Irving) will oversee the project and work as the principle photographer.

Susette Taylor, principal of Irving Middle School, enthusiastic supporter and endorses this project

Chimney Swifts

(scientific name: Chaetura pelagica) are small, (5 inches from beak tip to tail tip, 11 inches from wing tip to wing tip, 25-30 gram [~ 1 ounce]), sooty-gray plumaged Neotropical
migrant birds. They nest throughout much of North America (east of the Rocky Mountains) and winter
in northwestern South America (mostly Peru). MORE