Posted by: atowhee | August 26, 2019


The late summer gathering of Vaux’s Swifts is underway.  I went to the parking lot next to the McMinnville Co-operative Ministries on B Street here this evening.  By 8PM I had counted over forty swifts circling well above the chimney where they’ll eventually go for the night.  Is it possible some will stay on the wing all night, and sleep with one half of the brain asleep at a time?  We don;t know.  These are among the most mysterious of common vertebrates because they are so difficult to track and observe.

As I watched suddenly one or three or a handful would come into view.  I think there were often so high I couldn’t see them and as the plummeted earthward they suddenly popped into view.  There were clouds and good evening light so I think it was only their speed over distances that made them appear “suddenly” to my limited mammalian eyes.

Did you know that swifts could be the fastest creatures on earth (above earth actually) on the straightaway?  One species of swift may move faster than any cheetah. A Peregrine can get to higher speed in a dive but cannot catch a swift on a hundred yard dash straight ahead!

Here is a picture I took, with that speed at that height…looks just like blue sky…but the second image is enlarged many times:SWIFTSSWIFTS - Copy (2)

Here’s the start of a fine article on swifts in the London Review of Books: “Consider the Swift   by Katherine Rundell

“A common swift, in its lifetime, flies about two million kilometres; enough to fly to the moon and back twice over, and then once more to the moon. Weighing less than a hen’s egg, with wings like a scythe and a tail like a fork, they eat and sleep on the wing. They gather nesting material only from what’s in the air, which means that there have been accounts of still-flapping butterflies wedged in among the leaves and twigs. They mate in brief mid-sky collisions, the only birds in the world to do so, and to wash they hunt down clouds and fly through gentle rain, slowly, wings outstretched….”   If you register you can read the whole article here:



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