For the birds

Vaux swifts make a pit stop at the John Day Elks Lodge on Aug. 21 as they begin their fall migration from the Yukon Territory to Central America.

Thousands of Vaux’s swifts decided the chimney of the John Day Elks Lodge would make a nice pit stop on their annual migration south to Guatemala as they have done for years.

Larry Schwitters, a project coordinator with the Audubon Society’s “Vaux’s Happening” study group, said the John Day Elks Lodge is one of 30 roosting sites in North America for the neotropical Vaux swift.

Schwitters said the reason why the swifts roost together in chimneys like the John Day Elks Lodge is to keep warm during their fall migration.

He said the more birds they can get together, the warmer it will be in the morning as they continue their journey to Guatemala. Scwhitters said they begin the migration almost from the Yukon Territory.

Grant County resident Tom Winters, a member of the John Day Elks Lodge and the Grant County Bird Club, said the swifts have been coming through John Day for as far back as he can remember.

He said the primary roosting site was the old hotel on Dayton Street behind what used to be a Ford garage, but he said that was closed off, and the Elks Lodge became a secondary site for the swifts.

He said that the swifts started to make the Elks Lodge their leading site over the years.

Winters said now the chimney at the Elks Lodge is one of the most critical roosting sites in Eastern Oregon and one of the top 10 in Oregon and possibly the Northwest.

Winters said the Grant County Bird Club, which has existed since 1985, pays for the cleaning of the Elks Lodge’s chimney to maintain it as a roosting site for the Vaux swifts.

He said the chimney has dual use as both a heating source for the lodge and a roosting site in the fall months for the birds.

Winters said the Elks Lodge chimney gives another “little bit of significance” for Grant County.


Steven Mitchell is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at or 541-575-0710.

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