Monday, May 23, 2011

Chimney Swifts

Shiann on point with Chimney Swifts
Once upon a time we were bothered by the chattering of Chimney Swifts in our family room fireplace.  We installed caps over the top that failed to keep them out.  Then suddenly we learned to love them.  Now their twitters in the fireplace in spring livens up our world and entertains our Schnauzer Shiann for hours.
"The very loudest sounds are made by the babies when they are being fed by the parents. Although it is quite loud, there will be only one active nest in any chimney at one time. Normally by the time the babies become loud enough to hear, they are less than a couple of weeks from being old enough to feed themselves. After that, most of the loud noise will be over."
Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) are frequently described as flying cigars.  They appear to streak through the sky with their wings beats alternately, something that took years and advanced photography to disprove to the prevailing opinion of ornithologists.

Click to enlarge- Wikimedia
Swifts live their lives on the wing, even drinking by skimming the water with their beaks open.  Like goatsuckers, they grab insects in flight with their jaws gaping open.  If you think this is easy, try grabbing your fast food order while passing the drive through window at 30 mph!  A breeding pair with youngsters to feed can consume 12,000 flying insect such as mosquitoes, flies and gnats a day.

They build nests in hollow trees and chimneys using twigs with their saliva as glue.  Even more impressive, they collect their twigs on the fly, grabbing them with their beak or claws.  If the twig doesn't break off, the bird tumbles in the air, then frequently makes a second pass.

Swifts are gregarious and migrate to South America in large flocks.  We now look forward to the first twitter of spring in the house.  Shiann still hasn't got it figured out.

Cornell has sound files of their chatter. has information on how to live with chimney swifts and still use your fireplace.

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