May 8, 2024

Chimney Swifts Provide Evening Entertainment at Valley Road School

To the Editor:

The chimney swifts have returned to the tower at the old Valley Road School. They will probably be there at dusk for the next couple of weeks while they pair up and locate nest sites on local tall buildings. The site is Princeton’s equivalent of the Serengeti wildebeest crossing the Mara River on their annual great migration.

In the half hour after sunset, several hundred swifts will be “turning and turning in a narrowing gyre” centered around the tower of old Valley Road School building behind Conte’s Pizza. It is quite a spectacular sight as the rapidly spinning circle of birds “know exactly where it leads, and you can watch them go ‘round and ‘round each time.” Suddenly, they will begin to drop down and disappear into the tower to roost for the night. “Wait ‘til you see half the things that haven’t happened yet.”

How do so many fit into one tower? And how do they locate a place to land and hold on for the night in the almost total darkness inside the tower?

“Swifts were born to be suburban legends although they didn’t come here to make friends,” but to locate mates and produce the two or three chicks that will return with them in late August to create an even larger circling and screaming aerial spectacle around the Valley Road School tower.  It’s a site well worth seeing, particularly as they’ve spent the day consuming vast numbers of mosquitoes and other insect pests in the skies above Princeton and most of the rest of Mercer County.  An ecosystem service that they provide at zero cost to the inhabitants below.

A perfect entertainment on any evening in the next two weeks is to come to the playing field on Valley Road and enjoy a truly remarkable local wildlife spectacle. Chimney swifts, like “the best people in life, are free!”

Jefferson Road
With all due credit to David Lack,
W.B. Yeats, and Taylor Swift