Sue Hirshman

Sue Hirshman, expert on the Black Swift


Story by Kathryn R. Burke

Sue Hirshman[Ouray, Colo. March 17, 2015] “The Black Swift could be called the most elusive bird on earth,” Hirshman believes. “The birds don’t make it easy to find or observe them.” They like to nest in caves, near waterfalls, where rocky ledges and inhospitable terrain protect them from predators.

One of the more accessible locations for these mysterious birds right Box Canyon in Ouray, Colorado. Hirshman has been watching the Black Swift and recording their activities here nearly 20 years. “I hope I can study this bird until I’m 90,” she told Samantha Tisdel Wright for an article in the ‘2014 Adventure Summer Guide’ (1) “As long as I am able to walk, I am going to go over there” and watch those birds.

But she does more than just ‘watch.’ Using a Nikon D-90 with an AF-S Nikkor 70-300 mm lens for close-ups, she gets some outstanding photographs. Hirshman has helped team members band birds. Although Hirshman did not directly help the team to attach geo-locators, many birds were also fitted with that device to track their annual migration – all the way to Brazil and back!

Hirshman’s observations and photographs have been reported in numerous publications and scientific studies. Google ‘Sue Hirshman Black Swift’ and you get several pages of ‘hits,’ including links to articles she writes for the local Ouray County Newspaper. (2) Hirshman relates results of a detailed study of 11 years of Black Swift breeding phenology and success at Box Canyon.(5) “Box Canyon is known as Colorado’s largest nesting colony and the most accessible viewing opportunity, which has gained world attention as an important Birding Area,” Hirshman explains. Hirshman and Carolyn Gunn are updating that study to include another nine years.

To learn more about Box Canyon and the Black Swift, please join us Tuesday, March 17, 2015, at the Ouray Community Center, for a power point presentation followed by question and answer period. Hirshman will share historical photographs of the Box Canyon, which celebrates its 100-year anniversary as a park in 2020. Her detailed photographs follow a nesting pair of Swifts and their chick from hatching until it leaves the nest. Hirshman will also explain the geolocator and how it helps track and record birds migrations.

Sue Hirshman lives in Montrose, Colorado.

Top: Black Swift on Nest. Sue E. Hirshman
Center: Black Swift Migration Map
Bottom: Mom feeding chick 38-42 days old. Sue E. Hirshman

Related Links.
(1)‘The Coolest Bird.’ Samantha Tisdel Wright. 2014 Adventure Summer Guide.
(2) ‘Birds of Ouray County: The Black Swift | Ouray.’ Ouray County News. Sue Hirshman.
(3) Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory Science: Special Species: Black Swift.
(4) Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory Bird Population Monitoring › Specialized Programs.
(5) ‘Breeding Phenology and Success of Black Swifts in Box Canyon’. Sue E. Hirshman, Carolyn Gunn, Richard G. Levad. Sue Hirshman’s detailed study of 11 years of Black Swift breeding phenology and success at Box Canyon in Ouray, Colorado.
(6) Box Canyon Park. Summer Hours 8 am-8 pm or until dark. Visitor Center open May through mid-October. Trails open year round.


This article also appears on website for the Woman’s Club of Ouray County. Designed and maintained by Kathryn R. Burke.

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