To the Editor:
Community members associated with the Athens Area Birders have monitored local roosting sites for chimney swifts in recent years. The sizable brick chimneys of several local schools have been identified as important swift roost structures. Some of these roost chimneys may be lost during the school rebuilding process that is under way by the Athens City School District (ACSD).
The city’s Environment and Sustainability Commission is in the process of drafting a biodiversity chapter for inclusion in its sustainability plan; that chapter recognizes the importance of conserving wildlife within the city and surrounding area. Chimney swifts represent a key urban wildlife species.
The chimney swift is a migratory bird that nests in eastern North America and overwinters in South America. Although it is legally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, populations have been in a long-term, range-wide decline.
According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, populations have been shrinking at a rate of about 2.5% per year between 1966 and 2015, resulting in a cumulative decline of 72%. Therefore, we want to take steps in supporting these fascinating birds that spend much of their life in the air.
Chimney swifts depend on chimneys to raise their young and also for roosting during fall and spring migration. We sometimes see hundreds of migrating swifts entering a roost chimney at dusk.
We are grateful that ACSD Supt. Tom Gibbs and School Board members Kim Goldsberry and Sean Parsons have expressed their commitment to allow dedicated swift towers to be erected on school grounds to replace existing chimneys. This would help swifts to continue to use these sites for both nesting and during migration.
Moreover, a strategic approach to replace and expand swift habitat presents a unique opportunity for education, research and neighborhood place-making. It would significantly add to the profile of Athens and Ohio University as a place with a high quality of living, drawing visitors and benefiting businesses.
We propose that the Athens City School Board members and Supt. Gibbs work with community members and enter into a Memorandum of Understanding toward:
1) Maintaining the East Elementary chimney and/or building a new similar sized structure at the East Elementary site.
2) Building equivalent swift towers for other school sites, particularly West Elementary, Morrison Elementary, The Plains Elementary and Athens High School, and/or preserving existing structures at these locations.
3) Removal of the cap of the Middle School chimney for use by swifts.
4) Dedicating school district resources toward preserving traditional swift habitat at area schools.
Loraine McCosker, Karen Mammone, Dr. Stefan Gleissberg and Aimee Delach
All of whom live in Athens