A view of a Vaux's Swift's belly as it flies from left to right of the picture. It is day time and there are no clouds.
Photo Credit: Jamie Chavez

Avoiding Phoenix Rising in Courtenay?

The birds are beautiful but also a bit scary

Thousands of Vaux’s swifts nest in Courtenay Museum Chimney on their way to Alaska

You’ve probably heard of the myth of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Courtenay Museum is making sure it doesn’t have to deal with a real-life reenactment.

While the Courtenay Museum might not be getting lots of human visitors this spring, it sure is getting a lot of birds. For the fourth spring in a row, thousands of tiny Vaux’s swifts have set up camp in the museum’s chimney.

Normally Vaux’s Swifts spend the night in hollow trees, but, like a lot of other animals, they have decided that human-made spots will do just fine. About 4,500 of them show up at dusk and fly around for a while before they all zoom into the chimney to sleep.

The chimney isn’t working, so the birds are safe, but sometimes they have a bit of trouble getting back out. Pat Trask, who works for the museum, told the CBC that they sometimes get stuck in the boiler at the bottom of the chimney. “I went down this morning, looked inside the firebox and pulled out 55 swifts that were stuck in there.”

The birds migrate every spring from South America up to Alaska. They normally spend a few weeks in Courtenay before disappearing as quickly as they showed up.

The staff at the Courtenay museum like the birds so much that they take the rain cap off the top of the chimney when they know they’re coming.

The birds do leave a few “gifts” behind. Trask confirmed to the CBC that there’s a pretty big pile of poop when the birds leave the chimney. But the staff are just happy to be part of the birds adventure. “For this little tiny bird to fly all the way from Mexico to Alaska is quite amazing.”

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