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An unusual sight in downtown L.A.: Thousands of migrating Vaux's swifts delight birdwatchers

September 21, 2010 |  7:01 pm

Vaux's Swifts

Southern California birdwatchers are celebrating the return of a tiny bird called the Vaux's swift to L.A.'s downtown area. Vaux's swifts have taken up residence in the unused chimney of the Chester Williams Building at the intersection of Broadway and 5th Street, and the local Audubon Society chapter is inviting the public to take a peek during two bird-viewing parties over the next few weeks.

Vaux's swifts prefer to nest in hollow tree trunks, but a chimney will do in a pinch, and members of the species have been known to roost by the thousands in abandoned urban chimneys along their migratory paths. These particular Vaux's swifts are expected to stay in L.A. until early October before continuing south for the winter, according to the Los Angeles Downtown News.

The tiny birds aren't new to L.A.'s downtown; for years, they used the chimney of the Nabisco Bakery Building as a stopover on their trip south. (They were forced to find a new nesting spot when the building was converted into lofts and the chimney was sealed, the Downtown News reports.)

Vaux's swifts are diminutive gray-brown birds closely related to chimney swifts and sometimes mistaken for bats by urban dwellers unused to seeing small, rapidly flapping creatures in the sky. You can see them with the added benefit of expert commentary and Audubon Society-provided binoculars at the organization's free Birds Over Broadway events Friday and Oct. 1. Both events begin at 6 p.m. on the top floor of Joe's Auto Park, 440 S. Broadway.

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-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Vaux's swifts fly with a view of the moon in downtown L.A. before traveling north on April 23. They're once again in downtown as they prepare to fly south for the winter. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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