Sandy: The University of Oregon works hard to protect birds on campus

Vaux Swifts dive into the Agate Hall chimney (screen shot from Emerald video).

Vaux Swifts dive into the Agate Hall chimney (screen shot from Emerald video).

Posted by Bayley Sandy on Wednesday, May. 21 at 4:00 pm.

The University of Oregon may not have an ornithology department, but that doesn’t mean nobody’s paying attention to birds on campus. At a university whose campus is filled with lush beautiful wildlife, it comes as no surprise why various bird species would want to reside here.

But for some species of birds the care comes at a higher cost – just maintaining trees on campus won’t cut it. With the relocation of an Osprey nest from Hayward Field to the Law School, to the upkeep of a chimney on Agate Hall, the UO is doing a great job of making sure birds can have a safe home here.

To keep an Osprey couple and the public around Hayward Field safe, the UO relocated their nest to above the Law School. Those passing by and people attending events at Hayward Field could be at risk of falling debris from the Osprey nest — so the new location provides a safer, more private place to call home.

“The Osprey dropped a trout in lane four at Hayward Field, so that’s when they knew the nest needed to be moved,” said Jim Horstrup, the building manager for the UO Law School. While four of us stood on the roof of the law school admiring the Osprey circling above us, it became clear that this was a great decision.

Animal behavior professor, Debbie Schlenoff, was very pleased with the relocation of the Osprey couple: “The Osprey practice ‘site fidelity,’ meaning they tend to come back to the same area to nest each year. A few of us contacted the university about the problem and advised them that if a platform was placed high enough in the vicinity, the pair might use it on their return. We are gratified that is the case.”

According to Horstrup, it only took the Osprey couple three days to realize that this was their new home, and they have been building on to their nest every day. The athletic department funded the relocation process and the law school maintains its upkeep.

Another interesting bird species that reside here on campus is the Vaux’s Swift. These small Swifts only visit in the fall and spring, but they sure make an impression while they’re here. They are insect eaters and gather around sundown to enter the chimney on Agate Hall where they communally roost for the evening.

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They have a tendency to flock with other Swift species, which makes for an incredible image of thousands of birds flying overhead, swirling into chimneys. Professor Schlenoff estimates that the Swifts have been using the chimney at Agate Hall for about 30 years. And the Lane Audubon Society has sponsored a community watch event there during both fall and spring migration, for about 14 years.

“The Agate chimney is quite important on the Swifts’ West Coast migration. Vaux’s Swifts migrate each spring and fall,” Professor Schlenoff said. “It’s pretty amazing to watch the birds gather in the sky and then spiral down into the chimney for the night. The Lane County Audubon Society has Swift watch events each migration to inform the public about this cool spectacle.”

According to the Portland Audubon Society’s website, “Vaux’s Swifts typically nest in old-growth forests in hollow tree snags. Because of dwindling old-growth forest stands, Vaux’s Swifts have begun substituting chimneys for snags. Swift nests disintegrate soon after they are abandoned and do not pose a fire hazard.”

The UO is doing great things to maintain a proper habitat for birds on campus. So here’s to you — a small, 4-5 inch long Swift, to a large, intelligent raptor — the UO will always be a place for you to nest. And please stay! fall and spring just wouldn’t be the same without your beauty and presence.

Note: If you ever come across an injured bird or swifts in your chimney, please contact the Lane County Audubon Society at (541) 485-2473, or the Cascades Raptor Center at (541) 485-1320. Do not attempt to remove swifts from your chimney without contacting the proper centers first.