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Friday, September 23, 2011

Still sweeping the sky (Updated 09/24)

When I was a kid, we used to call them Chimney Sweeps, a misunderstanding of the bird's name but a not illogical one since they made their nests and their roosts in chimneys and other such cylindrical, open-to-the-sky places.  Their true name, of course, as I now know is Chimney Swift, the little bird with a body shaped like a cigar and with long swept-back wings that carry them barreling through the summer skies as if something were chasing them.  If something were chasing them, it is unlikely it would catch them because these birds live up to their name.  They are swift.  They are also one of my favorite summer birds and one of the last to leave us in autumn.

The swifts nest in our chimney each summer and they did again this summer, apparently very successfully because the afternoon sky over my yard was filled with 8 - 10 of the birds for a while after the babies fledged.  There are fewer here now and I'm not sure if they are part of the family that nested or if they are migrants from farther north now passing through.  But every night, after dinner, I hear their voices as they settle down in the chimney.  Whenever I'm out during the day, especially on my early morning walk, they are busy plying the skies looking for insects and chattering away to each other in their inimitable voices.  It is a happy sound and it makes me happy just to hear it.

The swifts typically arrive in April and they often linger far into the fall.  I often see them here well into October.  But today is the first day of autumn and so their time with us for this year is drawing to its end.  Sometime within the next few weeks they will be heading south once more to the western parts of north and central South America where they will spend the winter months.  They are birds that live on the wing and that make their living by capturing flying insects and so they must go where the quantity of flying insects is reliable in order to make it through the coming months.

But they'll be back.  Sometime in early April I'll be outside working in my garden and I'll hear that happy voice once again.  I'll look up and see the little cigar-shaped swift sweeping the skies over my yard once again and I'll know that spring has truly arrived.

UPDATE 09/24:  Today there are more than a dozen of the little swifts scouring the skies over my yard.  Obviously, some new migrants blew in last night.  I wouldn't expect them to stick around for very long.


  1. I'm not sure if I would want swifts in the chimney. They'd probably drive our cats crazy. I do love watching swifts fly though - lovely birds.

  2. Depends on the cat, I guess, Jayne, but, of course, the flue is kept closed while they are in residence so they only come to the upper parts of the chimney. They are lovely birds. I'll miss them when they are gone.

  3. Logical to confuse them as "sweeps" instead of "swifts". I'm pretty sure I have done the same thing. I see these little birds in the evening. They are really hard to see or follow with my binoculars because they are so fast!! I never knew they migrated. Learned something new:)

  4. I find them impossible to follow with binoculars, Rambling Wren. I'm just not fast enough, so I just watch them with the naked eye. They are amazing fliers and they are especially active late in the afternoon just before roosting so that's a good time to watch them.