Nova Scotia

Chimney swifts could become tourist draw in Mabou, says biologist

A biologist from New Brunswick is encouraging the Cape Breton village of Mabou to promote its population of chimney swifts to eco-tourists.

Co-ordinator of Maritime SwiftWatch says Cape Breton community one of few homes left for endangered species

The swifts gather at their roost at sunset. (Jim Williams)

Some long-time summer residents of Mabou could become the area's newest tourist draw.

A biologist from New Brunswick is encouraging the small Cape Breton village to promote its population of chimney swifts, a threatened species whose aerobatics make them of interest to eco-tourists.

Allison Manthorne, the co-ordinator of Maritime SwiftWatch, said it's not hard to understand what draws her to chimney swifts.

"Just after sunset, the sky is nice and rosy pink and you see these birds silhouetted in that setting sun," she said.

"They swirl around in a … kind of spiral. And then all of a sudden one will decide to go down into the chimney and then it'll just drop like a stone, and the others will start following it.  

"What you see is this big, dark cloud kind of getting sucked down into that chimney."

Over the past 40 years, the number of chimney swifts has declined by about 95 per cent across Canada and they're considered endangered in Nova Scotia.

Opportunity for birds and birders

Mabou's St. Mary's church is home to one of only 10 known roosting sites in the province, and the only one in Cape Breton. Manthorne calls that an opportunity. 

"For example, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, people do come from all over the country and all over the world to see these swifts," she said.

Inverness County Coun. Betty Ann MacQuarrie said she always thought the swifts were bats, but she'll be watching more closely now. She hopes eager birders will come to do the same. 

"They may just be passing through, or they may stay for a few days, because they are hard to spot," she said. "So they may camp down for a couple of days."

Manthorne said she'll meet with businesses and community groups in Mabou over the winter to help raise awareness about the local swift population. She hopes that will boost efforts to protect the birds.



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