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Issues Of The Environment: Protecting Ann Arbor's Chimney Swift Population

Courtesy image
Washtenaw Audubon Society

An old chimney on a city-owned property in Ann Arbor serves as a a roosting news for Chimney Swift.  The migratory birds don't relocate easily so losing the chimney at 415 W. Washington could be damaging to the local population. In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks to Cathy Theisen from the Washtenaw Audubon Society about working with the City of Ann Arbor to advance protections.  


  • On September 20, 2018, the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission approved a request from the city of Ann Arbor administration to demolish a group of blighted city-owned buildings located at 415 W. Washington, across from the YMCA.
  • A nearly century-old chimney on the property has nearly 1400 roosting chimney swifts (counted in August 2018 by the Washtenaw Audubon Society). The WAS has been lobbying to save the chimney from demolition.
  • Chimney Swifts, a migratory species that winters in South America, are listed as a “near threatened” species. The birds historically roosted in large, hollow old-growth trees. Due to habitat destruction of old-growth forest, this species is now almost entirely dependant on man-made structures. Although the birds are protected from harm or harassment under the federal Migratory Bird Act, there is no law barring destruction of the chimney when the bird are not present.
  • Cathy Theisen, conservation chair for the Washtenaw Audubon Society cites statistics from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, indicating chimney swift numbers have fallen 72 percent in the last 50 years and continue to decline at a rate of 2.5 percent annually. The Sierra Club has now joined the effort with the WAS.
  • Ann Arbor City Council on October 2nd, asked the city administrator to conduct a study to determine if the chimney can be preserved.
  • The location at 415 W. Washington in Ann Arbor has long been considered as a possible site for an “anchor park” on the Treeline urban trail. The possibility of a community art space on the site has been talked about over the years. The city has also discussed converting the site to private use as condos or apartments.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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