Many stopped and photographed this unusual sight as they pondered just what these Chimney Swifts were up to as they snuggled together.
But, as the north wind blew, most quickly realized these birds had the right idea.
Karen Benson, local bird expert and master naturalist, paused only a moment before she knew exactly what was happening.
“This is the time of the spring migration of all kinds of birds,” she said. “And a cold front had blown through in the night, dropping the temperature into the 40s.
“Conditions were right for a ‘fallout,’ but instead of a variety of warblers and buntings landing, we were seeing hundreds of just one species.”
These little guys are some of the smaller species of birds, being not much bigger than hummingbirds. Like hummers, they fly quickly and must eat frequently to maintain their metabolism and stay warm.
“If food is scarce or air temperature is on the chilly side, swifts are capable of going into torpor,” she said. “Torpor is a state of temporary ‘hibernation’ in which the birds’ body temperatures drop and all life functions are slowed.”
Benson estimated that the tree trunk probably held between 300 and 500 birds with likely another hundred flying above the courthouse.
Benson said that she talked to local wildlife photographer and birder Jimmy Jackson, who checked his log books and found that 16 years ago, almost to the day, he had seen a large number of swifts over the Bee County Courthouse.
“He also noted on that date that a good many swifts were huddled in a crack along the roof line, seeking protection from the cold north wind,” she said.
The birds were still around on Thursday, but as the temperature had begun to warm, many were no longer still there.
“This was an amazing sight, and I told everyone I met (Wednesday) to go and see it,” Benson said. “It won’t be there long; as soon as it warms up a bit, the swifts will continue their migration northward.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.