"Raise the Roost" for Chimney Swifts

About the Campaign

During 2016 PVAS began a campaign to protect Chimney Swift habitat on Shepherd University campus. The project began when concerned community members learned that one of the West Virginia's largest roosting sites, Sara Cree Hall, was set for demolition spring of 2017. Upon raising awareness and reaching out to local stakeholders, PVAS initiated a mitigation effort to ensure that Chimney Swifts would continue to have roosting habitat on Shepherd University campus. 

In November 2016 Knutti Boiler Hall, a previously popular roosting site, was uncapped for Chimney Swift habitat. In addition, PVAS is looking to “RAISE THE ROOST” and build an additional roosting structure near the storm water retention area on University Ave, an area with abundant food availability that will not be developed in the future.

 Chimney Swifts                                                                                                                                    

Chaetura pelagica are a neotropical migratory bird that visit North America during their  northern migration period. Their small, slender bodies make them magnificent fliers, and they are also phenomenal natural pest control agents as they are insectivores. Historically Chimney Swifts nested and roosted in standing dead tree trunks, but with the decreased availability of old-growth habitat, Chimney Swifts have adapted to the urban environment and use chimneys as nesting and roosting habitat. Unfortunately, as old historic buildings are removed and chimneys are capped the swifts’ urban habitat has declined in availability. Chimney Swifts have suffered a dramatic population decrease, 40% since the 1960’s, and are classified as "near threatened" by the IUCN.

How to Support the Swifts                                                                                                            

You can make a difference:

  • Join annual bird counts for "A Swift Night Out"
  • Leave chimneys open, use a cap with a 12" gap to allow swifts' entry or uncap them
  • Build a faux chimney tower (see example photo below)
  • Raise awareness in your community 
  • Donate to PVAS and help RAISE THE ROOST!

PVAS members have monitored Chimney Swifts in our region for decades. We have identified several habitats that Chimney Swifts occupy and are always looking for more. Join us every August and September during the  Swift Night Out” events, where we monitor roosts and count Chimney Swifts! The data collected will contribute to nationwide surveys and databases, for use by researcher and ongoing conservation efforts.  Review the “additional information” provided at the bottom of this page to learn more.

Project Status           (updated 11/14/17)                         

Knutti Boiler Hall is again home for Chimney Swifts! 

Knutti's chimney was uncapped in February 2017 to help mitigate the loss of Sara Cree's chimney. The quick re-habituation of the chimney is a successful step of the Raise the Roost project as Knutti provides critical habitat now that Sara Cree is capped and soon to be deconstructed. When Knutti boiler was open previously (until 2015), it hosted between 1,000-1,272 chimney swifts.  The swifts returned to Shepherdstown in early April and have been fluttering, chatting and eating plenty of insects overhead ever since, using Knutti's chimney and those of several private residences in Shepherdstown. Many local residents have been observing them and keeping PVAS updated. Thank you for your attention and appreciation for these aerial acrobats! 

The project has been moving along with the help of local partners. We have engineered a tower design with the engineers at Alpha Associates, and are now determining a local contractor who will help with construction. The design, featured below in the lower left photo, includes an access panel for cleaning and two panels for video cameras to be installed. This access will allow us to gather information about the roosting swifts, which will also benefit ongoing research about the Chimney Swift species. We are proud that this will mitigate habitat loss, and contribute to conservation science efforts. The research opportunities from the tower will provide new resources Shepherd University students, local and international scientific inquiry. 

The tower design (lower left photo) was modeled after a swift roosting tower built by Wake Audubon in North Carolina (lower right photo). Their roost was successful in the first year upon competition and each season the roost grows. We expect that our roost will also have quick re-habituation after the tower is constructed. 


The tower will be built near the bio-retention pond on the north side of Shepherd University campus. Site selection was determined was determined with the input of Shepherd University advisors and after a thorough soil and topographic assessments. Getting consensus around these details are critical to ensuring the sustainability and longevity of this investment. The partnerships and community support surrounding this project confirms what a remarkable community we have in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. 

If you are interested to learn more, get involved and support the “RAISE THE ROOST” project please contact Kristin Alexander (Kristin@PotomacAudubon.org).

Additional Information                                                                                                                 
Press coverage about the project                                                                                              

           © 2016 Potomac Valley Audubon Society

              P.O. Box 578 • Shepherdstown, West Virginia 25443
              phone // 304-676-3397

Yankauer Nature Preserve (Berkeley County)
Eidolon Nature Preserve (Morgan County)
Stauffer's Marsh (Berkeley County)
Cool Spring Nature Preserve (Jefferson County)

Kristin Alexander, Executive Director //   304-676-3397 

Kimberly Baldwin, Program Director //

Katelyn "KC" Walters, Conservation and Land Manager // 304-283-7319

Krista Hawley, Adult Program Coordinator
// 703-303-1026

Amy Moore, Cool Spring Preserve Manager and Naturalist // 240-818-4714
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