Our Wild Neighbors

Chimney Swift

Chaetura pelagica

An unobtrusive chimney squatter east of Saskatchewan and west of Newfoundland

Image of a Chimney Swift taking flight, seen in profile with its head to the left, mounted on a stem and base.

Description of the animal

  • A close relative of the hummingbird, the Chimney Swift’s plumage is however less colourful. Is ash-brown in colour, except for its throat, which is a lighter shade.
  • Female resembles the male.
  • Short legs and very small feet with sharp, pointed claws, like the hummingbird.
  • Body the shape of a cigar, measuring about 14 cm, and long, narrow, arched wings whose wingspan can reach up to 32 cm. It shares the same characteristics as the swallow.
  • Tail appears to have thorns.
  • Weight: up to 25 gr.

Habitat and needs

  • Nests in chimneys and hollow trees. When cold, the Chimney Swift can remain huddled in its nest for days.
  • Is very vocal. In flight, the Chimney Sweep emits several clicking sounds.
  • Moves rapidly at speeds of more than 100 km/hr. Its shape allows it to perform veritable aerial feats.
  • Clings to vertical surfaces. The shape of its legs prevents it from perching on a branch or landing on the ground. It can only take flight from a vertical surface.
  • Feeds on hundreds of insects and spiders per day. The Chimney Swift catches them in full flight. It often nests near a body of water where insects swarm in large numbers. To drink, it skims the surface with its beak.
  • Mates for life.
  • Divides incubation, brooding, and feeding tasks between three or four birds, forming a type of cooperative group.

Relationship

  • The Chimney Swift population dropped by 95% between 1968 and 2004. The destruction and closing of old chimneys, the removal of large dead trees, and the use of insecticides were to blame. Since 2010, the species has been classified as a “wildlife species at risk.”
  • Due to the removal of dead trees, Chimney Swifts are more and more dependent on human facilities for nesting sites.
  • Seeing a Chimney Swift is a privilege because it is only visible in flight. What a pleasure to watch it swirling through the air!

Living with them

  • To provide chimney access, avoid installing a chimney cap or screen. Use a large, non-metallic (clay) sheath. Check to see if current construction standards allow for this installation.
  • Do not have the chimney swept during the nesting period, but rather before May or after September. The presence of a Chimney Swift nest poses no danger since the nesting period does not coincide with winter heating.
  • If installing a metallic sheath in the chimney, place a screen on the top entrance to prevent a Chimney Swift from entering and getting trapped.
  • Do not cut down large dead trees. They provide shelter to Chimney Swifts and many other animals.
  • To help save the species, build a decorative artificial chimney or install and maintain nesting boxes.

Participating cities where this animal has been seen