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Friday, June 21, 2013

Swifts in the chimney

We've had Chimney Swifts over our yard since early spring. I enjoy watching them dash around the sky in pursuit of flying insects and, sometimes it seems just for the pure joy of flying. These are birds that live their lives on the wing.

Some of them have been roosting in our chimney as they do every year. When I would be up late at night in my living room, I could hear their chittering somewhere high up in the chimney. But I didn't think they were nesting there this year. I was wrong, though.

When we returned from our trip earlier this week, the first thing I heard when I walked through the front door was the sound of hungry baby swifts begging for food. Since then, those tiny voices have grown stronger every day.

Their parents and a third helper work hard to keep the babies fed. Starting as soon as it is light in the morning and continuing until around 8:30 to 9:00 at night, every few minutes all day long you can hear the noise as the adults bring food to them.

Some people would consider their presence an annoyance. Indeed, most of our neighbors have their chimneys capped with screens to keep the birds out. But I enjoy the sound of one of my favorite summer visitors. When I was a child, we always had swifts nesting in our chimneys every year, so I suppose their presence in my home is a reminder of those carefree days.

I'm not sure how many babies we have, but, according to Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman, broods of 4-5 and sometimes as many as 6 are common. The eggs are incubated by both parents for around 20 days and, once the eggs hatch, the nestlings are fed by both parents and usually a third adult by regurgitating insects. They stay in the nest for about a month, but may begin to climb out of the nest and creep around the vertical walls when they are around 20 days old. Once they take that first flight, they are basically in the air for the rest of their lives except for their nighttime roosting.

Chimney Swifts are with us longer than most summer visitors. They arrive in early April and generally don't leave until late September. As far as I'm concerned though, they never overstay their welcome. They are nifty little birds, closely related to hummingbirds and just as much fun to watch.


  1. How interesting. I love watching swifts with their aerial acrobatics, but I don't think allowing them in our chimney would be a good idea. We have a house full of cats and sound of the birds would probably drive them (and subsequently, us) crazy.

    1. One of my cats frequently sits on the hearth in front of the glass doors to the fireplace. He's convinced that if he could only find a way to open those doors, he could investigate the source of those interesting sounds. It provides hours of harmless entertainment for him. His sister completely ignores it. She'd rather play with her catnip mouse.