I bet you didn't know that masons played an important role in the environmental movement long before it became popular. In fact, some bird experts credit us — well really the chimneys our predecessors built — as the reason why Chaetura pelagica aren't yet extinct. I know these birds as Chimney Swifts.

As the pioneers headed westward and transformed forests into farms, they removed the hollow trees which had served as nesting areas for these migrating birds. When the Swifts returned from their Peruvian wintering area, they sought new refuges in which to raise their young. Looking for secure and safe housing, they chose masonry chimneys. They took to the structures in such numbers that they were named Chimney Swifts.

According to Paul and Georgean Kyle, Chimney Swift experts, these resourceful birds took so well to our safe structures that their numbers rose. But in recent years, as homeowners cap their chimneys, the Swifts are quickly becoming homeless.

These birds that masons once saved now need our help again. According to the Kyles, these welcome migrants need new secure nesting areas. “They are not greedy, all they need is about 1 sq ft of space,” wrote Kyle.

The Kyles are the project directors of the Driftwood Wildlife Association's North American Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project. They are leading an all-volunteer effort to expand public awareness about the beneficial nature and the plight of Chimney Swifts. Their goal is to encourage participation across North America in constructing nesting towers and conducting Chimney Swift conservation projects.

The Kyles are asking for our help in two ways. First, they'd like us to join their volunteer group by becoming Chimney Swift bird counters this month. They and their national volunteers have been tracking the nesting locations and population of Chimney Swifts around the country. By getting a national count in September, the month before they begin their winter trek, the Kyles can estimate the Swift's population and track their habitat range. They've been doing this for the last seven spring and falls.

The group also needs our help in creating standalone masonry nesting structures. The Kyles report that Chimney Swifts are single brooded, meaning that there is usually only one nest per structure. Unlike songbirds, Chimney Swifts can't perch, so their roosts need to be in deep shafts. Based on their research, The Kyles have constructed three examples of masonry nesting structures that meet the Chimney Swifts roosting requirements on the grounds of Chaetura Canyon Bird Preserve near Austin, Texas.

So let me be the first to suggest it's time for masonry to go the birds. It seems like a great way to connect with our young students and apprentices with a passion for the environment. If every vocational school or apprentice program in the country built just one new structure every year, we could help save this important part of the ecosystem. And just as importantly, we will get rid of thousands of nasty flying insects.

To learn more about participating in the Chimney Swift count, to view masonry nesting structures, or to purchase building plans of successful masonry nesting structures, visit the Kyles' Web site at www.chimneyswifts.org.

In our May issue we challenged you to test your knowledge of masonry terms. We posted two drawings I had found in the “Illustrated Building Pocket Book” by Roxanna McDonald. It's a great book that is an accurate reference source for much more than masonry. Recently we've posted the drawings with terms. Thanks for participating.