flying chimney swift slider

Chimney swifts: noisy little survivors

in Campus Life by

Chimney swifts, a small, vertically nesting bird, have migrated into Douglas County.  Although public opinion of these birds is polarized, identifying and watching these birds can be a fun spring activity.

Bird enthusiasts delight in the presence of these birds; however, for homeowners who host any swifts in their chimneys, swifts are not the most welcome guests.  Regardless of local opinion, these birds are interesting survivors.

For a mind bending exercise, consider the chimney swift’s top down view of the world.  Imagine patching twigs and saliva into a creosote encrusted chimney to raise your young.  For chimney swifts, building and living in a tiny vertical nest inside of a chimney is just another necessity of life.

The chimney swifts’ story of fighting to find usable habitat has a notable past and present.  These birds used to live in standing hollow trees, not chimneys, but due to human development and deforestation, nest sites have drastically altered.  “Unfortunately Chimney Swift numbers are in decline due to loss of habitat — first large hollow trees, and now open masonry chimneys,” the Chimney Swifts Conservation Association says on their website.

For now, birdwatchers enjoy the swifts’ acrobatic displays and often travel to the chimney swifts’ habitat. The adult chimney swifts’ distinctive wingspan puts on quite a display for birders as they perform vertical takeoffs and landings time after time to tend to their young.

Swifts’ adaptability is not run of the mill.  “Chimney Swifts are fascinating and beneficial birds.  They are also extremely adaptable,” the C SCA website states.

Not everyone enjoys chimney swifts, however;  many hosting homeowners have a very different take on these birds.

Baby chimney swifts are abrasively loud.  However, this is not a year round cacophony.  CSCA states, “The very loudest sounds are made by the babies when they are being fed by the parents. Although it is quite loud, there will be only one active nest in any chimney at one time.”   Chimney swifts also do not have massive broods.  Cindy Haws, Wildlife Biology instructor at UCC, states that a nest of chimney swifts may raise “four young swifts that hatch and make it out of the nest.”

The noise of young Chimney Swifts is not going to melt the heart of every human, but the Chimney Swifts are quite helpful.  All of the crying and begging from the young ones is for a reason.  Chimney Swifts can pack away insects in impressive numbers.  “Two parents and their noisy offspring will consume over 12,000 flying insect pests every day,” according to CSCA.

The characteristically unpleasant noises are not continual. “Normally by the time the babies become loud enough to hear, they are less than a couple of weeks from being old enough to feed themselves. After that, most of the loud noise will be over,” says CSCA.

The struggle between conservation efforts and homeowners keeping a tranquil chimney has led to legislation to ensure chimney swifts’ survival.  “Chimney Swifts are protected by Federal Law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” says CSCA.  “Always keep in mind that ‘Bird Removal’ is a blatant violation of the state and federal laws that protect Chimney Swifts and other migratory birds.  Homeowners should inquire about a company’s policy regarding Chimney Swifts.  Any company that offers or advertises such a service should be avoided,” CSCA continues.

CSCA also states how difficult rehabilitating chimney swifts can be.  “There is nothing like a nest of baby Chimney Swift to bring even the most accomplished wildlife rehabilitators to their knees — caring for Chimney Swifts is difficult.”

There is a simple technique to freeing any Chimney Swifts that may travel down an open flue and into a household room.  The key is to make the Chimney Swift “follow the light.”

If the fireplace or wood burning stove has a screen or a glass door, often times a dark blanket can remedy the situation by reducing light coming from underneath the chimney swift nest.

However, if the bird actually comes out of the fireplace and into the house, CSCA has a more intensive suggestion:  “If a swift has not found its way up the chimney after an hour or does manage to find its’ way into the house, it may need to be hand-captured.  To accomplish this; seal off the room where the swift is found.  Cover all windows and darken the room.  If possible, open a single door or window that leads to the outside, and the swift will be drawn toward the light.”

Haws also mentioned a great place to watch Chimney Swifts with fellow birders.   On the lawns of the Umpqua Valley Arts Association, onlookers set up lawn chairs to watch chimney swifts.  The UVAA can be visited at 1624 W Harvard in Roseburg.  The best times of day to view these birds are at dawn or sunset.

chimney swift nest
Photo provided by Audubon