For about half of the 35 years she served as a teacher in the South-Western City School District, Sheila Fagan enjoyed the bonus of observing a colony of chimney swifts.

For about half of the 35 years she served as a teacher in the South-Western City School District, Sheila Fagan enjoyed the bonus of observing a colony of chimney swifts.

Each spring, the Upper Arlington resident watched the lively birds as they returned to nest and roost in the tall chimney at Franklin Heights High School.

Fagan has helped lead a project to install a tower that, if all goes well, will serve as a new home for the colony after the old school and chimney were demolished to make way for the new Franklin Heights High School building that will open in August.

"I'm an avid birdwatcher , so it was a real perk for me," Fagan said.

Chimney swifts are rarely at rest during the day, spending most of the time flying, she said. The insectivores feed and even bathe while in flight.

"I love the sound they make. It's a distinctive set of rapid chirps," Fagan said. "I love watching them fly around and to see them return as a group back into the nest. It's really something to see."

Fagam retired a year ago, but that didn't stop her from worrying about the Franklin Heights chimney swift colony.

"I knew they would be threatened when the old chimney was taken down," she said. "I was really concerned the birds would perish."

For assistance, Fagan contacted Tom Sheley, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop on Sawmill Road.

The pair met with South-Western's coordinator of property services and construction projects to review the construction blueprints and determine the best location for the chimney swift tower.

Sheley already had obtained a tower planned for a site on Sawmill Road.

"It was good timing when Sheila called me, because when that site fell through, we had it ready for the Franklin Heights site," he said.

The tower weighs about 200 pounds and stands approximately 14 feet tall. It was installed on July 20.

A group of volunteers, including Franklin Heights teachers and students and community members, helped transport the tower to the school site and install it.

Resident Delbert Miller designed and installed the base for the tower. Darlene Silick, a local expert on chimney swifts, and Tim Daniel of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, provided guidance for the project.

"What is great about this is that it's a real community project," Fagan said.

Chimney swifts winter in South America and are typically in Ohio from May through September, Sheley said.

"They are amazingly adaptable birds," he said.

Originally, swifts nested and roosted in hollow trees in the eastern United States, Sheley said. Their natural habitat was all but gone by the end of the 1800s after settlers cleared forests as they moved westward.

"These birds were able to adapt to manmade habitats," he said. "It's at the tail end of the 1800s and the early part of the 1900s that you began to hear about them occupying chimneys and other tall structures."

The species is threatened again because many chimneys are now capped or lined with steel to ward off raccoons and other animals that also find the structures hospitable, Sheley said.

"There's a growing movement to build chimney swift towers," he said. "Hopefully, we'll see them take hold and provide another habitat for these birds."

While a count of the colony at Franklin Heights has not been made, as many as 200 birds likely were able to fit in the school's chimney, Sheley said.

It probably will be next spring before it can be determined whether the colony has adopted the new tower erected at Franklin Heights as its new home.

Colonies typically return to the same nesting and roosting site year after year, Sheley said.

It is believed the nesting period has ended at Franklin Heights, he said. Fledglings typically leave the nest by mid-July.

"If they are still nesting, you'll see them returning to the nest throughout the day" to feed and tend to the baby birds, Sheley said.

"They were no longer seen returning during the day to the chimney at the school, so we hope that's a sign that the nesting period is over," he said.

It helped that the demolition of the school was delayed due to recent storms, he said.

The new tower was placed about 100 yards from the old chimney, which was demolished July 22.

"As the old chimney goes down, they will need to find a new roosting site," Sheley said. "We're hoping that they will find the tower, which is only 100 yards away, and take to it."

"We'll be keeping our fingers crossed until next spring," Fagan said.

The tower also will serve as a learning tool at the new school, she said.

"We picked a site for the tower that is in view of the science classrooms," Fagan said.

Next year, students in science classes will be learning more about chimney swifts and monitoring the tower in the spring to see if the colony returns, she said.

A chimney at Sells Middle School in Dublin draws bird-watchers each year, Sheley said. (See video below of the Dublin colony from last September).

"People will bring their lawn chairs and watch the birds come in at sunset," he said. "To see them form a vortex and drop into a chimney is a thrilling sight. Hopefully, we'll be seeing that again next year at Franklin Heights."