Tall-tower project supports small birds; Eagle Scouts soarThe 14-foot-high tower neatly wrapped in white siding marks not only the completed project of a remarkably young Eagle Scout, but also hope for the dwindling population of chimney swift birds.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
The 14-foot-high tower neatly wrapped in white siding marks not only the completed project of a remarkably young Eagle Scout, but also hope for the dwindling population of chimney swift birds.
Ben Pierce, 15, lives in Clifton with mom Susan and dad Patrick, belongs to Boy Scout Troop 54 and completed the tower project last month.
He anticipates the ceremony that officially transitions him from Boy Scout to Eagle Scout will occur this winter.
He modestly acknowledges that the average age at which a Boy Scout achieves Eagle Scout is 17 or 18. Boy Scout’s highest rank requires meeting rigorous criteria, including 21 merit badges and a major service project.
When the time came nearly two years ago for Pierce to begin planning his project, his neighbor -- and a bird enthusiast -- Jim Beix, had some suggestions.
“He asked if I needed a project,” said Pierce. “He had one in mind. “
The Scout attended two meetings of the St. Croix Valley Bird Club, where Beix is a member -- he heard about the plight of both the chimney swift and the purple martin.
Pierce researched and evaluated the projects, learning that the martin project would require weekly upkeep and intensive watching while the swift tower needs cleaning only once per year.
The chimney swift tower sits high atop a hill near the park of the Highview Meadows subdivision, which is east of the River Falls Area Hospital.
The small birds fly all day eating insects and nesting at night -- historically in brick chimneys.
“They basically look like a flying cigar,” Pierce said, answering questions about the chimney swifts. “A lot of people mistake them for bats.”
The teen began work on the project nearly two years ago.
First he gathered information about potential projects -- throughout last winter he planned and researched how to build a chimney swift tower, then in April of this year, he started construction, finishing in June.
Pierce said a friend of Beix’s loaned him a book showing how the towers are carefully constructed to cater to the swifts’ needs. Outside the tower has white siding and a concrete base.
The tall structure has exterior plywood inside, with the grooved edges on the birds’ side -- the groove mimics the mortar between bricks where the swifts tuck in their nests sideways.
The opening to the tower must be of specific dimensions and placed on the north side of the tower’s top -- otherwise, the birds won’t enter it.
Pierce said he appreciates all the help he had from fellow troop members of Troop 54 -- in constructing the scaffolding needed to build the tall structure and in mixing and pouring the 10-inch concrete foundation with steel-reinforcement bars. It was important for the tall tower to have a strong base.
Pierce said the planning process involved consulting with Tony Steiner, city forester and planner, to find a location for the tower. Pierce said it came down to either Highview Meadows or Hoffman Park.
He researched the sites and also checked in with his scout committee. He chose Highview Meadows because it had a clear area for the tower, while the spot in Hoffman was a bit close to the disc golf course.
Pierce presented his idea to the city’s Park Board for approval, too. He said the project didn’t require a permit, but park-board members asked him a lot of questions before they OK’d the project.
Asked about surprising things, Pierce said he learned how long approval can take for a public project.
The swift population has declined for years due to the modernization of chimneys and people capping or converting existing ones. Pierce thinks the swifts will be nesting mostly during May and June.
The project not only helps a bird species that needs it and a Scout earn his highest honor yet, it may also help the city move toward being a Bird City, a status which many bird enthusiasts have been working on for years.