Quebec brewery lends its chimneys to a flock of feathered tenants

The Dunham Brewery in the Eastern Townships is home to more than just hops, kegs and bottles; it is a summer sanctuary for endangered chimney swifts who live in the old building's flues.

Throughout the summer months, patrons of the brewery can see the small birds circling above the patio — and hear their signature chirp.

At dusk, from May to August, people can watch more than a dozen birds do a rapid, single-file dive into the flues. 

"It was kind of a surprise, and it was a bit funny as well, because we don't get a lot of attention for the birds, more for our beers," said Simon Gaudreau, a co-owner of the brewery.

Gaudreau and his partners were approached by Appalachian Corridor, a local conservation organization, and told the chimney swifts were in the region.

The small birds — less than 15 centimetres in length — cannot land or perch horizontally, so they historically nest in old growth trees.

But as suitable trees became harder to find, the birds were forced to make their homes in chimneys, thus earning their name as chimney swifts.

Three steps to help the bird

Chimney swifts, with their boomerang-shaped wings and jerky flight patterns, have seen a 95 per cent population decline since the 1970s.  

Spencer Van Dyk/CBC

Property-owners are asked to do three things to help protect the birds: do not close or cover the chimney with metal grates during the summer, do not sweep the chimney during the summer, and do not line the chimney, because the birds need a porous material like brick to build their nests on.

The Dunham Brewery — known for its research on wild fermentation and barrel-aged beers — is lending its four available chimneys to the conservation effort.

The building is one of the oldest in the region, originally serving as a stagecoach stopover in the 1860s.

"It has a lot of soul," Gaudreau said. "We're trying to occupy it by being respectful and keeping it as much as it was as possible."

Conservation effort

"We're really happy when owners like the brewery accept to engage [in] bird protection like this," said Melanie Lelièvre, the director of Appalachian Corridor.

Her group has been identifying suitable chimneys in the Eastern Townships for a decade.  

"We're really happy and grateful that landowners are receptive to that kind of conservation project," she said.

More than half the owners of the 30 suitable chimneys they've selected have signed on to help protect the birds.

Lelièvre said the plan at Appalachian Corridor is to see an increase in old growth forests in the region, so chimney swifts can move out of buildings and back to their original home: hollowed trees.