Chimney Swifts: from babies to flight

This is a photo of a young Chimney Swift on it’s first flight after being released from my local wildlife

This is a photo of a young Chimney Swift on it’s first flight after being released from my local wildlife rehab, Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Pueblo,CO. I recently had the pleasure of observing, and photographing, the release of two fledgling Chimney Swifts.

Chimney Swifts are small birds, only about 5 inches in length, that look somewhat like swallows and are sometimes mixed in with flocks of swallows. They are very fast fliers and spend all day in the air where they feed on flying insects and even take their baths in flight by dipping in a water source briefly. They are found throughout the eastern and mid western U.S. (plus a ways into some interior western states like Colorado) and similar parts in very southern Canada.

This what the baby swifts looked like not long after they were brought to Second Chance Wildlife Rehab. Chimney Swifts often nest in chimneys (thus their name) and they had fallen down a chimney in a home. Luckily for them, the homeowner rescued them and brought them in for care. As you can see, they are very young as their eyes are not open yet in this photo.

And here is a video clip showing those baby Chimney Swifts when they are ready to be fed.

Unfortunately Chimney Swifts are a species of conservation concern.  They originally nested in old tree stumps then wood fence posts.  After eastern forests were cut down and wooden fence posts went to the wayside, they adapted to nesting in chimneys.  Now, however, chimneys are  often not included in new buildings and many with chimneys have capped them so the swifts cannot enter to nest.   But they are a species that is very good to have around.  The website of Driftwood Wildlife Association, which has led the effort to promote the conservation of Chimney Swifts, provides the following information:

  • Two parents and their noisy offspring will consume over 12,000 flying insect pests every day. These include only small things like mosquitoes, gnats, termites and biting flies.

If you have a chimney in your house or business, ‘Being a Good Chimney Swift Landlord‘ is a must-read.

This is what that young Chimney Swift looked like after it got to cruising altitude. This photo shows why Chimney Swifts are referred to as ‘flying cigars’–they look like fat cigars with wings flying high above us!

I most often hear the distinctive twittering calls before I look up to see them flying above. Listen to those calls here on Audubon Guides website.

There are a number of efforts to provide artificial nesting sites for Chimney Swifts by building ‘Chimney Swift Towers.’  I was involved this year in a project of my local Audubon Chapter to build one here in southern Colorado.  You can help by being a good landlord if you have a chimney, involvement in a group building a Chimney Swift Tower, and helping your local wildlife rehab center by volunteering and donations.

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SeEtta Moss
SeEtta Moss is an avid birder, bird photographer and conservationist in Colorado.