The tower is a 15-foot tall wooden structure that will serve as a nest site for chimney swifts. In other words, it is a very tall birdhouse.
Dorothy Neuhaus, curator of collections at the museum, explains that chimney swifts are dark, swallow like birds, 5 inches long from beak to tail. Adults weigh only 8/10 of an ounce, but eat tremendous numbers of airborn insects, especially mosquitoes. They fly on narrow wings and, except when roosting at night or when on their nests with eggs or young, they live in the air.
Originally nesting in standing hollow trees in the eastern forests, they followed the settlers and their chimneys west. But now their numbers are declining because modern chimneys with caps and smooth tile linings cannot be used as nesting sites.
Swifts arrive here in late April or very early May. Although they are solitary nesters, with one pair per structure, in August they gather into migratory flocks that roost together in large chimneys. Then in Vermillion at dusk hundreds can be seen going to roost in either the USD smokestack or the high school chimney.
These remarkable birds leave in early September to fly to the Upper Amazon Basin, over 3,500 miles from Vermillion.
The tower is located north of the northeast corner of the museum building. Although it has just been built, museum staff hope a pair of birds will find it and build a nest there yet this summer.
The tower's design is from the Driftwood Wildlife Association in Austin, TX. The project was paid for by Mark Wetmore and built by John and Jim Lee.