Right now, the Bird Conservation team is trekking across some of Montana’s most incredible landscapes for the 2021 Black Swift surveys. Black Swifts almost always nest behind high altitude waterfalls, so the team has been scrambling up waterfalls around Northwest Montana. In partnership with Glacier National Park and with the help of park technicians, the project is aimed at studying population trends of these elusive birds. Black Swifts will leave the nest around sunrise and come back in the evening, which means surveying takes place until dark and begins well before the sun is up. Despite being the largest Swift in North America, Black Swifts are pretty difficult to spot. They will fly at high speed into the falls and disappear into a dark ledge or corner. The attached photo is a good representation of what it is like to spot one on the wing.
As a Species of Concern in Montana — and as a species highly vulnerable to the threats of climate change — this work is crucial to the species’ long term stability. It is anticipated that decreased snowpack will impact the flow of high altitude waterfalls and thus the Black Swift habitat. So far, Montana Audubon’s Policy & Science Director, Amy Seaman, Avian Specialist Bo Crees, and Big Sky Watershed Coordinator, Peter Dudley have had a good amount of success finding breeding populations of Black Swifts, including populations around Seeley Lake and on both sides of Glacier. Stay tuned for our end of season report! We can’t wait to share what was found.