Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)
These birds spend most of their lives flying, since they lack the ability to perch. Instead of perching, when they do land, they cling to the walls of chimneys, hollow trees or caves. Sadly, the decline in the use of chimneys and the chimney design change to covered, narrow flues has contributed to the decline of the species. They fly into Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo from the surrounding area, including Beardsley Park, and you may see them around your own home.
Chimney Swifts are very small birds with slender bodies and very long, narrow, curved wings. They have a round head with a wide, dark bill that is so short that it is hard to see. They have short necks, and short, tapered tails. Although, their plumage is dark gray-brown all over, slightly paler on the throat, when backlit against they sky they can appear to be all black.
The Chimney Swift is between 5 and 6 inches in length. They weigh between .6 and 1.1 ounces. Their wingspans are between 11 and 12 inches.
The Chimney Swift flies almost constantly using stiff wingbeats. They only stop flying to roost at night or when nesting. They will even bathe in flight by gliding down to the water, smacking the surface with their bodies, and bouncing up and shaking the water from their plumage as they fly away.
While flying they often make a high-pitched chattering call. Their shape and color has led to them being called the “flying cigar”.
Chimney Swifts nest in chimneys and on other vertical surfaces in dim, enclosed areas in urban and suburban areas over open terrain but also over forests, ponds and residential areas.
The Chimney Swift spends most of the year in the eastern United States and southern Canada. They migrate through Central America to the South American Amazon Basin for the winter.
Insectivore. Chimney Swifts are aerial foragers with their diet consisting of insects.
During nonbreeding seasons, large numbers of Chimney Swifts roost together in the same location for the consolidated body heat. During breeding seasons, unmated Chimney Swifts may continue to live together. They also migrate together in groups as large as 10,000 birds.
Both parents help to build a nest for their one or two broods per year each consisting of 3 to 5 eggs. The Chimney Swift uses glue-like saliva from a gland under its tongue to cement its nest to the chimney wall or rock face.
Both parents feed the hatchlings. Usually a breeding pair will not tolerate another breeding pair or any other Chimney Swift to roost in the same location as them. However, an unmated Chimney Swift may help the breeding pair rear the young. The hatchlings are blind and naked when hatched. The young outgrow the nest after about two weeks and have to cling to the nearby wall, in many cases even before their eyes are open.
The average life span is 14 years in the wild.