Amateur birder’s delight: Help monitor America’s chimney swifts

They are a common bird of summer, most likely one you’ve heard and seen, but they blend into the background. It’s a summertime sound, but most people probably can’t identify it.

The chimney swift.

Have you ever been hanging out on your deck or backyard in summer in the evening and looked up to notice twittery birds over your home? They have long, thing bodies, kind of like a cigar. Their wings constantly flap and at times it looks like the wings are flapping opposite each other. These are chimney swifts – aerial insectivores that build nests of sticks and their saliva in chimneys. They are not traditional perching birds, but cling to the insides of chimneys that take the place of their original nesting and roosting habitat: old decaying, hollowed-out trees or the insides of caves. With human settlement in the United States, these birds adapted to living inside our chimneys. But now the availability of chimneys for swifts is declining as many people cap them to keep critters out, and large, urban chimneys are disappearing as electricity replaces wood and coal burning.

There’s even a movement to encourage swifts to nest in your yard by building chimney swift towers. Audubon Minnesota offers more information and plans for construction on its website.

Though people may not actively notice them in summer, by late summer and early fall, they can be hard to miss as they gather for migration. It will start with family groups using a chimney, then they will join others creating larger flocks. Eventually, many family groups will congregate and thousands of birds will swirl in a tornado-like fashion around a large chimney at dusk. There the birds will rest and eventually the large flock will head south. 

Many local and state Audubon groups will ask people to watch for these roosts and report how many swifts are entering chimneys. Watch for areas near you where swifts are feeding. Is there a nearby tall shaft or chimney they could be using? At dusk, count how many swifts fly into the structure.  Here is the reporting form.

So take a moment one late summer evening as you drive home from work or walk your neighborhood to see if there are any twittering swifts overhead. Perhaps you can document a new roost for this insect-eating bird.

Categories: Import

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