Pioneer ornithologist Althea Sherman’s 98-year-old chimney swift observation tower got wired for the 21st century Thursday.
Two video cameras and a microphone, installed by raptor expert Bob Anderson, will eventually provide to Internet users the same views of nesting chimney swifts that Sherman once regarded through a series of peepholes.
“This is so far beyond anything she could have imagined, but entirely consistent with her mission to learn about birds and teach others about them,” said Barbara Boyle of Williamsburg, a member of the Johnson County Songbird Project, which has worked for more than 20 years to preserve Sherman’s historic tower.
“The more I read about her, the more I appreciate her innovative studies in an era when women were not encouraged to be scientists,” said Anderson, director of the Raptor Resource Project, whose Decorah eagle nest cam has set the modern standard for bird observation techniques.
One of the two cameras will focus on a swift nest, and the other will record birds flying in and out of the chimney. It will likely go online next spring. After the nesting swifts’ young have fledged, the 28-foot-tall, 9-foot-square tower will likely become a communal roost, Anderson said.
Swifts entering a chimney is a spectacular sight, according to Anderson. “They don’t fly into it. They just drop into it,” he said.
Sherman, a self-taught ornithologist born in 1853, built the ingenious tower in 1915 in the Clayton County town of National.
After she died in 1943, the tower was moved to Harpers Ferry. The Songbird Project acquired it in 1992. It was in storage until May, when it was refurbished and erected at the Bickett-Rate Preserve, owned by the Cedar County Historical Society.