The Chimney Swift is a member of the swift family
which also includes the Black Swift and the White-throated Swift
(the common swift west of the Rockies). Chimney Swifts range
throughout eastern North America from North Dakota to Maine and
south to the Gulf Coast. They winter in Peru. Their closest relative
is the hummingbird.
The Chimney Swift is a small bird, roughly 5" long and dark-gray in
color. As with all swifts, it has a short bristle-tipped tail and
slender, curved-back wings. In flight the swift calls with a
twittering of rapid, repeated chips. The Chimney Swift can be
distinguished from swallows and martins by its lack of forked tail
and its narrow, long wings on a relatively small body. The swift is
often described as a "flying cigar". Swifts gather in communal
roosts in air shafts or large chimneys, often whirling in a huge
circle as they funnel down for the night.
Chimney Swifts begin to arrive in March. A few still nest in large
hollow trees; however, most nest in chimneys. Both sexes help in
nest building. They hover by trees and break off twigs and are then
fastened together with saliva to form a semicircular basket and
attached to the chimney wall. By mid-June 3 to 6 pure white eggs are
laid. Incubation takes 18 days and then the young usually stay in
the nest for 24 days. At first they exercise their wings while
staying in the chimney by bracing their tails against the walls and
flapping their wings. Both the father and mother help with
incubating and raising the young. Sometimes other adult swifts will
also help with feeding duties. The young are ready to leave the nest
usually in late July to early August. Swifts flock together after
the nesting period. They begin to leave in the fall with most gone
by late October.
The Chimney Swift and Man:
Chimney Swifts are highly beneficial birds from man's point of view.
They are voracious eaters of flying insects including mosquitoes,
flies, ants and termites. Unlike martins, they don't mind if a yard
has tall trees. Their only requirement to nest is a chimney
(non-ceramic) or chimney-like structure. If you would like to have
Chimney Swifts nest in your chimney, remove any grate that may be on
the top during the nesting season (March - October). The only
precaution you must take is to make sure the chimney flue stays
closed. When there are young in the chimney, you may hear some
fluttering from time to time which sounds very close to the flue.
This is caused by the young exercising their wings and is no reason
to panic. Swifts leave very little debris in the chimney from their
nesting activities and are very clean birds.