Medford middle school provides an unusual home for birds

MEDFORD, Ore. — Hedrick Middle School in Medford is home to students during the day, but once the lights are out, a new species calls the school home.

Vaux’s Swifts, a special kind of bird breed, stays in the chimney of the middle school over night. There are thousands of them that stay there during migration throughout the fall.

“Right now they’re traveling down to Mexico, Central America and Venezuela,” Karen Hussey, Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, said. “They need to stay in chimneys to stay warm during that travel time every night so this is one of our star chimneys in Oregon.”

The birds are unlike other birds because they don’t have thumbs, so when it comes to find a place to sleep, it’s a little difficult for them. They would typically stay in old hollowed out trees, but since those are so few and far between, they’ve resulted to chimneys.

“They need old chimneys because in the 1940’s they put cement liners inside and they cant get a grip anymore,” Hussey, said. “Hedrick Middle School is one one of those special chimneys that’s left for them to use.”

The Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, Rogue Valley Audubon Society and the SOU Siskiyou Environmental Education Center put on the very first viewing event for the birds.

They were able to do this through a grant from the Rogue Valley Audubon Society.

Many people did not know that this bird breed had been staying inside of the schools chimney and were excited to see the phenomenon.

“I’m excited to be here to watch the pretty birds as they go on migration,” middle schooler, Chance Ryan, said.

It’s a phenomenon because of the way the birds enter the chimney.

“Were gonna have thousands of swifts swirling overhead and that make these patterns that look like a tornado and when the timings right they decide to go in the chimney and it just looks like they’re getting sucked in and its really neat to see,” Hussey said.

Hundreds of people came out to the event to enjoy the viewing party, many with their family members and friends.

“We love to see community events like this where there’s young folks and old folks and just all members of the community coming out enjoying a free event on a beautiful evening, it actually bring tears to my eyes,” Kat Smith, Medford resident, said.

The viewing party had many games like, corn hole and chimney toss, activities like face painting, and food trucks for those at the event to enjoy.

“It’ll be a first time for me and probably a lot of people here so I think it’ll be interesting,” George Nielson, Medford resident, said.

But even though the event ended at eight for most of the viewers, the birds however, won’t be leaving the school until the morning.

“They’re gonna spend the night in this chimney and then get up in the morning when the sun comes up and keep flying south,” Hussey said.

Blakely McHugh is a weather forecaster and reporter for NBC5 News. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Blakely is a native of San Diego, CA.

Blakely is excited to be in southern Oregon, a place that gets all the seasons and has similar temperatures to Arizona in the summer! When she’s not at work, you can find her relaxing at home watching TV and cuddling with her cat, Dallas. She also enjoys trying new places to eat and exploring the outdoors.

Blakely loves meeting new people so if you see her out and about, say “Hi!”

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