Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2011-24

Common name:

Vaux's Swift

Scientific name: Chaetura vauxi
Date: 11 May 2011
Time: 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Length of time observed: 10 minutes
Number: 1
Location: American Fork Boat Harbor
County: Utah
Elevation: 4500
Distance to bird: 40 feet - 100 feet
Optical equipment: 8x10 Binoculars
Weather: Overcast and breezy.
Light Conditions: Sometimes good and sometimes bad, depending on where the bird was in the sky and the background.
Description:        Size of bird: Small, swallow sized maybe a little smaller. Difficult to judge.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: A pickle taped to a boomerang.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: brownish
(Description:)            Bill Type: Difficult to see.  just a small point on the front of the bird.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
The bird was brown all over.  Much paler brown on the throat and chest.  The paler area blended darker on the lower belly to the dark tail. The bird had a tiny bill and short head.  Tail was short and when folded looked square or slightly rounded depending on angle (tail never looked notched).  The wings were long and mostly evenly tapered, with a very, very short 'arm' compared to the long 'hand'.  Wingbeats were stiff and shallow.  The wings did not fold back toward the back of the bird at the bottom of the wingbeat as much as a swallow's wings do.   Because of our vantage, surrounded by trees, we were never able to get good looks at the top or rump of the bird.  It was always flying overhead. Whenever it got some distance away the view was blocked by trees.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: It flew directly over us several times but we never heard it call.
Behavior: Flying about swiftly.  We would see it fly over then would loose it behind trees.  It was mostly flying just above the treetops.  Sometimes it would be gone for several minutes at a time then would come back and circle over us for a while before disappearing again.  This happened a few times.  It could have been flying out over the lake.  The lake shore was flooded up into the trees so we couldn't get a clear view of the open lake in this area without having to wade through water.  The swift was very loosely associating with swallows. 
Habitat: Flying over a flooded riparian woodland at the very edge of Utah Lake.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Eliminated swallows by shape, wingbeat and color. 
Eliminated Black Swift and White-throated Swift by color and short unnotched tail.   
Eliminated Chimney swift by pale chest down to belly and the range of the Vaux's makes it the more likely swift in Utah.  After returning home I compared Eric's photos side-by-side with Sibley's swift shape drawing (found here - and feel the photos more closely match the Vaux's Swift body shape.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
 I have seen what I believe were Vaux's Swifts a couple of times here in Utah and I have seen Vaux's in Oregon a few times.  I have seen Chimney Swifts in TX, MA, VA, NC, OH and ON.  I have never seen Vaux's and Chimney together.  I do most of my birding in Utah so don't have a ton of experience with either species.   Hopefully there are members on the records committee with more experience than me who will be able to identify the photos. 
I have lots of experience with White-throated Swifts.  Watching them has given me a good feel for the differences between swifts and swallows. 
References consulted: The Sibley Guide to Birds.  And when I got home the Sibley webpage "Identification challenge: Vaux s vs. Chimney Swift" -
Description from: Notes made later
Observer: Eric Huish
Observer's address: 850 E 100 N Pleasant Grove, UT
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Eric Peterson was with me and took the photos.  KC Childs saw it that same day, about a half hour after Eric and I left.
Date prepared: 13 & 14 April 2011
Additional material: Photos
Additional_Comments: Photo were taken by Eric Peterson.  There may be more photos if needed.  These were the best ones.