Be Lovely, Bright Places

Save the Swifts

Hannah Kimmel is not your average 11-year-old girl.   Hannah found out in November of 2013 that the White Elm Nursery in Hartland, Wisconsin, was going to be destroyed, along with the chimney that was home to  1,000 chimney swifts.  Chimney swifts are small North American birds that spend almost all of their time in the air.  An unusual feature about this bird is that it does not perch, and for that reason it lives in chimneys or hollow trees where it can cling to the walls.  Hannah believes that the nursey is a Bright Place that should be preserved, and she decided to do something about it.  Although she had just finished 5th grade, she didn’t feel like she was too young to make a positive difference.   She got a group of friends together and started Save the Swifts to raise money to create a new home for the birds.  I had the chance to talk to Hannah about her project, and here is what she had to say:


Q:Why are the chimney swifts important?

A:  In Canada they are on the near endangered list, and the population is decreasing by 20% each year. The birds also eat a lot of mosquitos. If you have chimney swifts in your neighborhood, it will most likely be less buggy than a neighborhood without chimney swifts.  on the chimney


Q:Why do you want to help them?

A:  My mom is a member of the Hartland Historical Society, and they tried to save the nursery. This is how I found out about it. It was important to her, so it kind of rubbed off on me. When I found out about the birds, because I love wildlife, it seemed right to try and help them.


Q:  What do you do for chimney swifts?

A:  The White Elm Nursery was knocked down in November. The nursery had a huge chimney, and at least 1,000 chimney swifts lived here. When the chimney was knocked down, the birds were in the amazon. If we don’t do something, they are going to come back to no home. I am trying to build a new chimney for them with some school friends.

The Former White Elm Chimney
The Former White Elm Chimney


Q:  How are you planning to build the new chimney?

A:  We are trying to raise 26,000 dollars. We have 7,000 dollars right now, and 4,000 dollars in promised money to build the chimney. The businesses and schools in our community are really helping us to raise more money. We are going to build the chimney in Cottonwood Wayside, a protected park in our community, and [it] will be a great place for the birds.


Q:  How old were you when you became involved with the chimney swifts?

A:  I was 10.


Q:  Wow!  That’s awesome that you took an interest in your community at such a young age.  What part of Save the Swifts gives you the most pride?

A:  I am really proud of our group being able to go out to the community and speaking in public because we really had to come out of our shells.


Q:  How many people are involved with saving the chimney swifts?

A:  Everyone who donates helps, but we have a group of about 10 people from the community that meet before school and are actually doing the labor for the project.


Q:  Do people ever ask you why the birds can’t find somewhere else to live?

A:  They do.  We explain that there aren’t a lot of chimneys for the swifts to come back to because a lot of chimneys are being capped.


The former White Elm Nursery
The former White Elm Nursery

Q:  Why was the White Elm Nursery destroyed?

A:  It was knocked down to build apartment buildings.


Q:  That’s really disappointing.  One hundred years of history in this building torn down to make apartments. That is awful.

A:  It is.  The historical society tried to educate the community about the importance of the swifts and preservation in general, but in this case they were not successful.


Q:   Where do you see this project going in the future?

A:  Well, if we raise enough money, we hope to build the chimney, and people will be able to come and visit the chimney and become inspired to do something like it.


Q:  That’ great.  How do you get the word out about your project? 

 A:  We write to the local businesses. A lot of our money also comes from word of mouth.  People can also donate online.


Q:  What are you looking forward to during the rest of this project?

A:  I am excited to reach out to more businesses. It would be really fun to learn about the architectural plans when we build the chimney.


Q:  How will this experience help you in the future?

A:  It has definitely helped my confidence with talking in front of groups of people. It gave me a lot of experience with things like writing grants and how to properly thank someone. I learned how to address an envelope, which will be very helpful in the future.


Q:  I know our readers are going to want to learn more about you!  What is a typical day for you?

A:  During the summer I have robotics everyday for 2 hours. Then sometimes I have gymnastics. In between I enjoy hanging out with my friends. In the school year, after school I have meetings for the chimney swifts; band before school.


Q:  What are your hobbies?

A:  I am a competitive gymnast, play the oboe, and enjoy drawing, swimming, and tennis.


Q:  Where would you like to wander?

A:  Rome, Italy.


Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with GERM. It was really nice to meet you, and I hope that you meet your goal.

If you want to help Hannah and her team save the swifts, visit