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No Chimney and No Swifts in Northville

Detail of illustration by Peter Seward

Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared on May 7, 2013. 

Chimney swifts flew over Northville Monday evening. Someone counted seven birds in the sky a little before 8 o’clock. Finding nowhere to roost they quickly winged on.

“They kind of swooped in and swooped back out again. Who knows where they are. We don’t know,” village historian Gail Cramer said today. A few dozen people gathered to watch, not sure what to expect. “If we’d had another week we would have had a chimney up. But the paperwork didn’t come through,” Cramer said.

Northville, in the southern Adirondacks, has celebrated the return of the chimney swifts every May 6 for decades. The birds are among the fastest- and farthest-flying seasonal migrants, annually traveling between winter grounds in the Amazon and a breeding range across the eastern U.S. and southern Canada.

But over the winter the swifts’ Northville roost was torn down. The 132-year-old free-standing brick chimney was once part of the Hubbell Glove Factory. The owner decided the landmark had become a liability. Community organizers scrambled to build a replacement, a wooden facsimile on a nearby lot. But red tape hampered their plans. Cramer said insurance was not secured in time for the return of the swifts.

As a result there was no high-school band, no block party, and no stream of birds in the twilight. Cramer said the substitute chimney will be built as soon as insurance comes through, maybe within a week. “If there are a few hanging around they might use it,” she said.

Meanwhile in Saranac Lake, I watched between 30 and 40 swifts funnel down the chimney at St. Bernard’s School at 8:22 p.m. Sunday, May 5. (It’s a myth perpetuated by Northville boosters that the birds return precisely on May 6; they can show up before or after, depending on the weather they meet in migration.) More will straggle in as the week goes on. The return of the swifts to Saranac Lake goes unheralded, but this year I had company. Kids from the 2013 confirmation class decided it was too nice outside to sit in a classroom memorizing the Ten Commandments. So they were out on the playground playing soccer, funnel ball and lacrosse. At dusk, a few looked up as the batlike birds came home to roost.

For the complete story on swifts in Northville and Saranac Lake, read “Swift Notes” in the June 2013 issue of Adirondack Life.

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