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2014-02-20

- In The Wild - Saving the chimney swift

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Courtesy photo

The North American Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project promotes chimney swift conservation. The Project identifies and monitors existing nest and roost sites, educates the public about these birds, and installs and monitors new nest structures.
Chimney swifts originally nested in hollow trees, but as people moved into their habitat, they adapted and began nesting in chimneys. Thus the American Swift became the Chimney Swift. Bandera County lies within the swift's most westward expansion line. According to Texas A&M, the "paucity of habitat in the Trans Pecos has kept the bird from moving farther west."
Today, chimneys are disappearing, or they are screened to prevent wildlife from entering the home. Once again, the swift is having to adapt or face extinction.
Anyone can play a role in preserving this species. We don't need acres and acres of wilderness to provide habitat. The swift needs "one square foot of unused column like our chimneys during the summer when we don't need them - and a little tolerance."
Tolerance? Well, yes, to be honest, the birds make some noise while nesting, and your chimney acts like an echo chamber to multiply the volume. The young can be particularly noisy when yippering for food.
The Project assures us that by the time the little birds' vocalizations become noticeable, they are only 10 days or so from fledging. So, "keeping the damper closed and packing the fireplace with insulation can dampen the sound to tolerable levels."
It is suggested that you compare the sound to the thousands of mosquitoes, biting flies and flying ants the birds will eat in their lifetime that won't be bothering you.
Unlike many bird species, both sexes are identical in appearance.
The tail feathers are tipped with pointed barbs that help them cling to rough vertical surfaces. Swifts can perch or stand upright.
Chimney swifts winter in the Amazon Basin of Peru. They arrive here in late April and are gone by early November. Nesting begins in May and may continue into August.
They usually have only one brood per season, and there will be only one active nest in any structure, regardless of size. The female lays three to five white eggs in a nest made of broken twigs pasted together with saliva.
Both sexes build the nest and both catch flying insects to feed the young.
At the end of the breeding season, the swifts congregate in flocks of hundreds and even thousands at suitable roost sites. With the first cold front, the birds begin heading south.
Anyone interested in providing habitat for these beautiful birds can find information about building chimney swift towers. The insulated towers are basically false chimneys, standing eight to 12 feet tall.
A two-foot band of metal flashing should cover the top of the tower to keep predators from the tower. Air holes at the bottom of the tower provide adequate ventilation. Putting the tower on metal legs helps control ants.
Once the birds have migrated, the bottom of the tower should be removed and cleaned, and old nests removed.
The Project believes there are many reasons for people to care about chimney swifts. Primarily, the birds eat nearly one third of their own weight in flying insect pests every day. Secondly, swifts, like all neotropical migratory birds, are declining in numbers and need our assistance.
Finally, it's just plain fun to watch their aerial acrobatics.
Chimney swifts are protected by state wildlife codes and federal law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916.
The recovery of Eastern Bluebirds and Purple Martins has been aided by providing additional habitat, conserving existing habitat and educating the public. It may be possible to reverse the declining trend in Chimney Swifts by using a similar strategy.

Visit www.chimneyswifts.org to learn more about chimney swifts and what you can do to help.