Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Only Chimney Swift Spending the Winter in Wisconsin

As many of you know, we are over-wintering a Chimney Swift this year at WINC. He (or she, there’s no real way to tell) came in as an orphan on August 20th. This is considered very late in the season for Chimney Swifts. But just like other baby birds, we fed our little Chimney Swift every 30 minutes for the first couple months to keep him going.

Eventually, as his weight reached a plateau at a healthy 20 grams, we put him on hourly feedings. Typically, as birds grow older they begin to self-feed and you can feed them less and less frequently until they no longer need any hand-feeding. However, Chimney Swifts are different. In the wild, they catch insects in the air as they fly which is very difficult to replicate in captivity. Because they will not self-feed in captivity, we knew we would have to feed him. He was the first patient we cared for in the morning and the last one at night.

Once he developed sufficient flying skills, we decided it was time to start looking for flocks of other Chimney Swifts to release him into. We had heard of flock sightings in Madison so a staff member took him there in hopes that she would find the flock. Unfortunately, it was a cold day so the flock was nowhere to be found. After a few more weeks with no signs of the flock, we had to face the facts: the Chimney Swifts had already migrated to the only place they go in the winter months, Peru! So we knew our 70 degree indoor aviary and hourly hand- feedings were his only hope for survival. Of course we were willing to do whatever we needed to do for him to someday be released.

It’s now the end of January and we’re still feeding our Chimney Swift whenever he desires which is back to almost every half-hour, time permitting. Having to keep any animal over the entire winter is not ideal for us or for them, but one you have to care for so many times a day can start to drive a rehabber a little crazy. It got me thinking about how much of our time this little guy demands. We’ve fed him approximately 15 times per day for the last three months and an average of 25 times per day for the two months prior to that. After a little math, I came up with an approximation of roughly 2,850 feedings since August 20th! So that’s where all of our mealworms are going!

As the days slowly grow longer, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the Chimney Swift and hopefully he will be released into a flock once the summer months return. Until then, he has a safe and warm place to live where he will never have to worry about going hungry.

Guest Blogger, C.M.

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