Swifts are small, fast-flying birds that hunt insects while in flight. Three of North America's four species of swifts are primarily found in the western United States. The fourth species, the Chimney Swift, has a large range that extends from the eastern seaboard to the Rocky Mountains.
Unlike most songbirds, Chimney Swifts cannot perch or stand upright. They use their claws and short, rigid tail feathers to cling to rocks, trees, and chimneys. At the end of the breeding season, birds begin congregating in great numbers and will use a former nest site as a roosting location.
Why are Chimney Swifts important to the environment?
Each day, Chimney Swifts consume one-third of their weight in flying insects, such as mosquitoes and flies, making them a natural insect control.
Historically, Chimney Swifts nested and roosted in hollow trees, but land development and the clear cutting of forested habitats has reduced natural nesting sites. As a result, Chimney Swift numbers have declined. According to the Breeding Bird Survey, from 1966 to 2004, Chimney Swifts declined at an annual average rate of 1.4 percent in many areas throughout the United States.
Wide-scale habitat preservation would benefit Chimney Swifts, allowing for the protection of their natural nesting sites. This species does, however, make use of artificial roosting sites such as Chimney Swift towers, which are aiding in the bird's conservation.
Getting Started: What You Can Do
- Clean chimneys in early March, and leave masonry or clay flue-tile chimneys uncapped March through October to allow entrance by nesting and roosting swifts. (Metal chimneys provide no grip points for swifts or other wildlife and should be capped permanently.)
- Eliminate pesticides from the home landscape to prevent toxins from being consumed by the swifts and other wildlife.
- Support the preservation of open space and old-growth forests.
- Retain snags (dead trees) on property in areas where safety is not an issue.
- Construct a Chimney Swift tower; see the website listed below for building plans.