Contractor’s work is for the birds
By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires
Minneapolis — Condo construction is making a comeback east of the Twin Cities.
Bird condos, that is.
Minneapolis-based contractor Kraus-Anderson Inc. is working with the South Washington County School District and the Audubon Society to erect a series of towers for chimney swifts that are being displaced by renovations at the schools.
Kraus-Anderson has been doing a lot of work for the district, and some of the jobs involve removing and capping old-fashioned smokestacks or chimneys, said Terry Thompson, Kraus-Anderson project manager.
All of which is good for the schools, but not so good for some birds.
“The Audubon Society of Minnesota contacted us and said, ‘We have chimney swifts that are nesting and roosting in these chimneys and when you take them away, they have no place to go.’ And apparently, this has been going on with the elimination of a lot of chimneys,” Thompson said.
“One of the solutions was to construct basically a pseudo tower that looks like a chimney that they can use in place of it. We agreed to, us and the school.”
Up to 30 swifts will be able to find shelter in each tower, which are supported by four steel legs embedded in a concrete base.
Towers are under construction at Hillside School in Cottage Grove and Newport Elementary in Newport, and Kraus-Anderson has agreed to put up more towers at Pine Hill, Crestview and Woodbury schools next year.
The structures are “nothing spectacular — just a wood frame about 16 feet tall and it’s hollow inside,” Thompson said. But it’s home-sweet-home for the birds, which have to cling to a vertical surface and can’t sit on branches.
Finding new homes for chimney swifts is an increasing concern because development over the past couple of decades has cleared away many of the hollow trees that traditionally provide homes for the birds, according to Audubon Minnesota.
The birds have adapted by living in chimneys, but that option is going away, too, as more old masonry chimneys are going by the wayside and modern chimneys are capped or protected with metal grates that keep the intruders out.
Ron Windingstad, Audubon-at-Home coordinator with Audubon Minnesota, said chimney swifts were declared an endangered species in Canada last year, and that the swift population has declined by 50 percent in the past 40 years.
It’s the kind of bird that many people might want to keep around because they feast on mosquitoes and other insects.
“That is their entire diet,” Windingstad said. “It’s been documented that they can eat over 1,000 mosquito-sized insects each day. That might be another reason for their decline. There are fewer and fewer insects these days because of spraying.”
Thompson said the schools are furnishing the materials, which cost about $450 per tower, and Kraus-Anderson is providing the labor.
He said the effort is providing a teachable moment for students at the schools. And the construction crews are learning a few new things, too.
“I have found out more about chimney swifts than I ever knew,” Thompson said.