Like a scene from Hitchcock's 'The Birds': Swifts descend on Hotel Dunsmuir
It felt a lot like the Alfred Hitchcock horror movie “The Birds” when hundreds of unusual birds filled the lobby of Hotel Dunsmuir last Monday.
Hotel owner Mark Juarez said he and some co-workers left the hotel around 9 p.m. and returned about an hour later on April 26 to find 600 swifts in the lobby and hallway.
Although Juarez identified the birds as chimney swifts – a common eastern bird – the identification wasn’t confirmed by an expert. The birds could also have been Vaux’s Swifts or Black Swifts, which are more commonly found on the west coast and look similiar to chimney swifts.
The birds are thought to have entered the hotel through its chimney, which had no screen or cap on it. The last time Hotel Dunsmuir used its chimney was in February, Juarez said.
Birds in the swift family are incapable of perching, and can only cling vertically to surfaces. They spend almost their entire life airborne and choose hollow trees or chimneys to roost in, according to the Audubon Field Guide.
The birds found in the hotel resembled bats since they were clinging to the walls and sitting on the floors around the baseboard, which led to Juarez’s identification.
“We were freaked. But by the end of the evening we all fell in love with the birds,” said Juarez.
At first, Juarez called the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office which, he claimed, “thought we were nuts.” Deputies who showed up had no idea what to do about the situation, Juarez said.
He then called the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which suggested they turn off the lights and open all the windows. That’s when Juarez, Jett Jandreau, Michael Hall, Billy Owens, and Lee Porter took it upon themselves to catch each of the birds individually to carefully transport them outside so they could fly away.
"They didn't seem too afraid of us. We held them gently in our hands and we could feel their little hearts beating,” said Juarez.
It took the five men about two and a half hours to clear the hotel of the birds. But they continued finding birds in the hotel over the next two days.