Local News

Autumn Sunsets Alive With Birds

Posted October 9, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— If you venture to downtown Raleigh at dusk anytime soon, be sure to look up -- there's a sight to behold. The sky is covered with a mass of migratory birds.

First, thousands of starlings perform their rhythmic dance. The dance in the sky draws a crowd of fans from the ground.

"Everytime I look at this and I stop, and people see me looking at it, they want to know what is going on there. 'Is it bats?' They don't know what it is," said John Conners of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Then, a chaotic mass of chimney swifts joins in the waltz.

On their migratory journey south, the tiny birds congregate at dusk to rest.

The tornado of birds funnels into the chimney on the old Belk building downtown. A few thousand of the birds will latch on to the masonry walls inside.

It is their place to sleep, like an inn for chimney swifts each night.

"It is a fantastic natural phenomenon, especially to be in the middle of downtown Raleigh and to be able to see something like that," said George Farnsworth, a bird fan.

As temperatures fall, birders won't get to see something like this much longer. The swifts will eventually make their way to South America for the winter.

"It really just surpassed everything that I thought it would be. It was just a fabulous, fabulous Mother Nature moment," said birder Amy Herman.

Many people mistake chimney swifts for bats, but they're actually in the same avian family as the hummingbird.

And the name is not coincidental. It's considered the fastest bird in the world.