What is that noise in my chimney?
Have you heard chirping noises in your chimney and wondered what it was? Chances are you have probably heard the chattering of Chimney Swifts, a unique species of bird that nest only in chimneys. Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s Wildlife Education & Rehabilitation staff receives many calls about these birds at this time of year as it is their primary nesting season.
Sometimes called “flying cigars,” Chimney Swifts are small, dark-colored birds with long pointed wings and stiff tails. The only swifts commonly found in eastern North America, they have a cylindrical body and tend to be similar in appearance to swallows. Just like bats, swifts are aerial foragers whose diets consist primarily of flying insects.
Instead of perching like most birds, swifts use their long claws to grasp chimneys and other vertical surfaces. They are often in flight, and even bathe while flying! Swifts are able to fly over a body of water, smack the water with their breast and then bounce back up, shaking off excess water from their feathers as they fly away.
Chimney Swifts are also known for their distinctive nest construction. The parents weave small twigs together in the shape of a half-saucer and then glue the nest to the inside of an open chimney with their saliva. Their nests can hold anywhere from one to five eggs.
Although Chimney Swifts are not currently a species of concern, their population numbers are decreasing across their range because their habitat is diminishing. Contributing factors may be that newly built chimneys are often made of metal which prevents nests from adhering properly to the inside or that new construction has resulted in narrower chimney flues, leaving Chimney Swifts fewer places to nest.
Wildlife Rehabilitation Coordinator Amy LeMonds often finds Chimney Swifts nesting in the Center’s chimney. According to LeMonds, another factor limiting nesting sites for Chimney Swifts are that people buy caps for their chimneys to keep raccoons out, but in doing so they also prevent Chimney Swifts from nesting.
“Caps are available for chimneys that are large enough to let swifts in, but can still keep raccoons at bay,” said LeMonds. Additional information on how to make your chimney a good habitat for Chimney Swifts can be found online from the Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project at chimneyswifts.org.
According to LeMonds, swifts can be difficult to rehabilitate. In most cases, if you find a baby Chimney Swift, the best thing you can do for it is to return it to the chimney flue so that its parents can care for it. If you find baby wildlife and are unsure of what to do or if you have any wildlife-related questions, please contact Lake Erie Nature & Science Center at 440-871-2900.
Joanna Galysh is a former community relations intern at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center.