Rod and Gun Club building chimney swift towers at La Riviere

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John Tieden and Dennis Kirschbaum with the Prairie Rod and Gun Club work on one of the two chimney swift towers at La Riviere Park of Prairie du Chien. (Photos by Ted Pennekamp)

Four Prairie du Chien High School students helped to build three sections for each of the two chimney swift towers for La Riviere Park. Above are Blake Garcia, Jacob Joy, teacher Ron Kucko and Aaron Neisius. Sawyer Fuller is not pictured. (Photo by Dennis Kirschbaum)

The two towers being built at La Riviere Park will look similar to this chimney swift tower in Elkader. (Submitted photo)

 

By Ted Pennekamp

 

The Prairie Rod and Gun Club is working on several interesting projects, one of which is the construction of a pair of chimney swift towers at La Riviere Park of Prairie du Chien.

Former conservation warden Dennis Kirschbaum of the Rod and Gun Club said the idea for the two towers began when the city tore down the house at La Riviere Park and with it, the two chimneys that chimney swifts have been using for more than 30 years.

In researching the idea of replacing the torn down chimneys, Kirschbaum contacted the Friends of the Sherman Swift Tower, a group that built a chimney swift tower near National, Iowa and later at other locations. He also acquired the book Chimney Swift Towers: New Habitat for America’s Mysterious Birds, A Construction Guide by Paul and Georgean Kyle.

The Friends of the Sherman Swift Tower and the Prairie Rod and Gun Club made donations toward the building of two towers at La Riviere to get the project started. Kirschbaum and other volunteers from the Rod and Gun Club began working on construction at La Riviere in March and poured the concrete foundations as soon as it stopped snowing and the weather was good enough. Helping with the concrete foundations were Rick Lange, John Yager, John Tieden and Kirschbaum.

Kirschbaum noted that students in Ron Kucko’s woodworking class at Prairie du Chien High School built three sections for each of the two towers. The students were Black Garcia, Jacob Joy, Aaron Neisius and Sawyer Fuller.

When completed, Kirschbaum said that each tower will be 13.5 feet high and will sport an interpretive kiosk at the base that will provide information to visitors about the towers, the chimney swifts and other interesting features of La Riviere Park.

“They are the most expensive and largest bird houses I’ve ever made,” said Kirschbaum. “And, I’ve made a lot of bird houses.”

Insulation, trim work and siding still need to be completed on each tower. The two kiosks will not be done in 2018, but will be added later.

Each tower will house one nesting pair of chimney swifts, said Kirschbaum, an avid birder. Later, several swifts will roost in each tower.

“Since May 2, we’ve had swifts flying by checking out the towers,” said Kirschbaum, proving the adage, “If you build it, they will come.”

“Chimney swifts have been losing nesting sites because over the years, chimneys have been disappearing,” Kirschbaum said. “There’s not very many old chimneys such as the Dousman House chimney left. Also, new chimneys have smooth liners which are not suited for swifts. They need a rougher surface like those of old chimneys.”

Chimney swifts also use sinkholes, caves and hollow trees, he noted.

“A project like this is extremely important because it provides future habitat for the nesting of the chimney swift. The species is in sharp decline partly due to loss of nesting sites in chimneys,” said Harold Krambeer of the Friends of the Sherman Swift Tower.

“Replacing the two chimneys that were removed with the house at La Riviere Park will provide a home for the chimney swifts which will return looking for those missing  chimneys. Every nest matters,” said Krambeer.

Krambeer noted that he and his wife, Deanna, built four chimneys at their home and they were all inhabited by nesting swifts within the first few years. 

“The swifts were a joy to watch and we believe they lowered the numbers of mosquitoes and other biting insects. Our Friends of the Sherman Swift Tower group assisted five other individuals or groups with constructing the small artificial towers and most of the chimneys are inhabited by swifts,” Krambeer said.

Friends of the Sherman Swift Tower built a replica of Althea Sherman’s Chimney Swifts’ Tower at National, Iowa, to honor her work as an ornithologist and to promote knowledge of the remarkable chimney swift. 

“We’re very appreciative of the efforts of Dennis Kirschbaum and the Prairie Rod and Gun Club to promote the continued nesting of the chimney swift at La Riviere Park,” Krambeer said.

If anyone wishes more information about the chimney swift project at La Riviere Park, or to donate to the project, interested persons can call Dennis Kirschbaum at (608) 326-2718, or send the donation to the Prairie Rod and Gun Club, P.O. Box 355, Prairie du Chien, WI 53821.

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