Chimney Swift Towers Go Up in Minnesota

Johnny Herr, an Eagle Scout from Minneapolis, builds bird boxes with Audubon. 

Every Friday a troop of up to 70 Eagle Scouts comes together in a community center in Minneapolis where they get to work completing their projects. Toyota-sponsored TogetherGreen fellow Johnny Herr, a 17-year-old sophomore born from Taiwanese parents, wanted to help aspiring Eagle Scouts from his troop, so he got in touch with the Minnesota Audubon Society to inquire about how to build chimney swift towers and kestrel boxes. Dozens of bird boxes later, he’s become a passionate bird-lover who helps not only his troop members, but also declining avian species.


What was your Eagle Scout project?

To send school supplies to Haiti. After that there were kids coming in with new eco-projects. I really like construction and I helped them out. Ron Windingstad from the Minnesota Audubon Society helped. I was part of a crew that built 10 chimney swift towers and other birdhouses like kestrel houses. I just love building them; it was just a fun activity and I like hands-on stuff. I talked to Ron and I was like okay, can we get a grant to build a couple more chimney swift towers?Then just a couple of months ago we got a $1,200 grant from Toyota to buy the supplies and build them.


How did you decide to focus on chimney swift towers after you completed your project?

Ron gave me a book. I learned that their population was dramatically decreasing because people are blocking off their chimneys to prevent things from coming in, like raccoons. I read that the only things that could bring them back are these chimney swift towers. They are much easier to access and are less dangerous for the birds because the swifts don’t get caught inside a chimney.


Are there chimney swifts in the towers now?

Two weeks ago there was a group of chimney swifts that settled down and apparently we have parents in there right now.


You also build kestrel boxes. How did you come to work on those?

Two months ago we met a scout who was doing his eagle project working on kestrel boxes. We distributed all 18 to separate parks that needed them. The hard thing about it was finding the right measurements. None of our guys knew how to build kestrel boxes because most of them were chimney swift tower builders.


How does it feel to know that birds are using the boxes you built?

You have that good feeling that you are helping the environment. You’re doing something that not many people in the world would do, and you feel special that you’re one of four or five kids who want to do the same thing that you do. It’s a great feeling to see that what we built for the birds is being used in a good way. I’m a bird lover.


What’s your favorite bird?

The Baltimore oriole. They’re pretty amazing colors, especially during mating season. I’m learning more about birds with the Audubon Society. I just started learning about birds last year; I’m learning about bird calls. We listen to tapes and to the birds outside.


What advice would you give to other people who want to help birds and the environment?

In your spare time, if you don’t have anything to do, go outside and look at the birds and think of where and what house they live in, and do research online. If you find an interest in them, talk to the Audubon Society and they’ll put you in touch with someone who can help. That’s my advice for someone who loves birds.

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