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The Complete Guide to Swifts in Portland

The Complete Guide to Swifts in Portland 

One of our team’s annual traditions is to go to the Portland Swift Watch. Every year, we look forward to watching flocks of birds fly across the captivating sunset. 

If you want to experience the friend-of-the-Earth side of Portland, we strongly suggest doing the same. Want to learn more? We’ve prepared a guide to swift watching in our city and all it entails!

But first, of course, let’s introduce you to the swifts.

What are swifts?

Image from Oregon Live

Swifts are medium-sized birds that fly fast and stay airborne for long periods, only infrequently landing on the ground.

In fact, they eat, mate, bathe, and sleep while flying! Of course, they find a water source on the ground, but often do so by only plunging quickly so they can immediately be back in midair. 

Moreover, they also stop whenever they need to raise their young. 

These birds are said to look similar to swallows and martins and fly on an average of more than 500 miles. And that’s only per day!

Their diet consists of spiders and flying insects and they like making a habitat out of crevices in churches and houses. 

How long do swifts stay midair?

Swifts stay midair for as long as 10 months without landing. As we’ve mentioned, these little birds love flying. 

While that’s to be expected for creatures with wings, swifts take it to a whole new level. 

When is the best time to see swifts in Portland?

The best time to see swifts in Portland is in September. It’s also possible to spot them in October, but by then, they typically have reduced numbers. 

If you want to see them in their full glory, September is your best bet. 

What swifts can you see in Portland?

The swifts you can see in Portland are called Vaux Swifts. These are dark-colored aerial birds with narrow wings.

Out of all the birds in North America, Vaux Swifts are among the smallest. The species is named after Academy of Natural Sciences member William S. Vaux. 

He was the first person who provided a description for these birds. Do note that while the name seems like it’s pronounced as Voh, it’s said to be actually pronounced as Vawks.

Where can I watch the swifts in Portland? 

You can watch the swifts in Portland at Chapman Elementary School. It’s the best spot to view the flocks, so every September, crowds gather in this school to watch the birds. 

This isn’t a small event, by the way. Usually, around 2,000 people come by to watch around 16,000 swifts. 

It’s best to arrive an hour before sunset to get a more striking view. If you’re dropping by around the start of September, the sunset will be around 8 PM. 

However, if you’re planning to go near the end of September, it would be around 7 PM. 

Some people bring picnic blankets and some snacks with them during bird watching. Do note, however, that it’s illegal in Portland to consume alcoholic drinks in a public setting. 

Also, don’t leave your trash behind and pick up after your pets (if you bring any!). 

How do I get to Chapman Elementary School? 

You can get to Chapman Elementary school by taking the bus and riding either the #77 or #15 and alight at NW Vaugh and 26th. When you get off the bus, you’ll need to walk for about 5 minutes to get to Chapman Elementary School. 

Riding a vehicle is another option, but we won’t suggest it. It’s hard to find parking during Swift Watch. 

You can also refer to the directions to the school via Google Maps. 

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