Seeking Swifts in L.A.

Every spring and fall, small migratory birds, called Vaux’s Swifts, pass through Los Angeles on their way to breed in the north or to spend winters in the south.

Vaux’s Swifts using communal roosting site in Downtown Los Angeles.

By Jeff Chapman

Every spring and fall, small migratory birds, called Vaux’s Swifts, pass through Los Angeles on their way to breed in the north or to spend winters in the south. For many years, these birds have used old chimneys in Downtown Los Angeles as resting locations as they journey for thousands of miles.

These old chimneys are popular “roosting” sites, being able to attract several thousand birds in a single evening -– you can see a roosting site featured in the Natural History Museum’s Nature Lab. However, many of these chimneys have been demolished, covered, or otherwise made unsuitable for the birds over the years. L.A. is an important stopping point for Vaux's Swifts as they make their journey from Canada and the Pacific Northwest to Southern Mexico and Central America.

Vaux’s Swifts using communal roosting site in Downtown Los Angeles, 2013. Photo: Jeff Chapman
Vaux’s Swifts using communal roosting site in Downtown Los Angeles, 2013. Photo: Jeff Chapman

Now, Los Angeles Audubon Society is looking to the community to help find the current roosting site for the Vaux's Swifts. It could be anywhere in the L.A. basin. If you see groupings of swifts in the late afternoon or early evening, Los Angeles Audubon Society wants to know because it could help pinpoint their roosting location.

Here’s some video from a former roosting site in downtown Los Angeles:

How to identify swifts:

  • Vaux's Swifts have been described as “cigars with wings”, which is pretty accurate.
  • They are brownish/gray in color.

  • They swiftly fly through the air, never stopping as they feed on flying insects.

  • You may see them in large groups, flying over places like the Los Angeles River, Griffith Park, or Sepulveda Basin.

  • Use this online guide to help with identifying the birds:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Vauxs_Swift/id 

How to report observations of swifts:

  • If you see large flocks of these birds (especially in late afternoon/early evening), please send location, date, and time information to: swiftwatchla@gmail.com
  • You are also encouraged to submit observations via ebird.org or inaturalist.org