Chimney Swifts: Amazing Insect Eaters

by Natural Resources Commissioner Suzi Myers

Remember last May when we turned off the outside lights to help the birds during their migration?  One of these birds is the Chimney Swift, coming 3,000 miles from Peru to breed. They can fly up to 150 miles per hour when they are chasing prey.

This bird is small with a cigar shaped body, about 5 1/2 inches long with a crescent shaped wingspan of 12 1/2 inches.  Because their legs are so short, they must continuously fly or hang on inside a chimney with their small sharp toed feet and long tail feathers.

Chimney Swifts are amazing insect eaters. A pair can eat over 12,000 flying insects a day, up to 3 times their weight.  Many of these insects are considered pests, like mosquitoes, gnats, small flies and termites. 

Chimney Swifts get their name due to their nesting in chimneys. They also nest in caves or hollow trees.  Nesting season is from June to August, usually birthing 3-7 chicks.  They build their nests out of sticks, which they attach together and to the inside of the chimney with their spit, producing a cup like nest.  The eggs incubate 20 days and the babies fledge about 1 month later. 

After the nesting time, the swifts gather together into communities, sharing the same chimney.  Sometimes these communities have hundreds of birds in them.

Here’s how you can enjoy the Chimney Swifts.  About dusk, watch the skies for circling Swifts, chattering loudly.  They will start circling a chimney, gathering more and more birds.  Suddenly a few will start dropping into the chimney, then it almost looks like a tornado of them dropping into the chimney, until there are no more flying about.  In the morning, they all fly out, returning at night. Due to declining populations, towers are built for roosting, we have some in our area (one at LeRoy Oakes).

They will migrate to Peru during October and November. In recognition of the migration out of our area by the swifts and many other birds, we will once again turn the outside lights off on October 14.