DEEP: Wildlife Division Chimney Swift Page

Chimney Swift Watch


{Chimney Swift artwork} Chimney Swift Watch is a cooperative initiative with the University of Connecticut as a result of Connecticut's Wildlife Action Plan to more thoroughly assess the chimney swift population in Connecticut. Chimney swifts are aerial insectivores that are often found foraging for insects over towns, cities, and rivers. Although we do not know how abundant these birds were during the precolonial period, chimney swifts have been common breeders in Connecticut through the 19th and into the 20th century. They are most known for their amazing flight demonstrations in autumn, when chimney swifts gather in enormous flocks around large chimneys before migration. Chimney swifts have been declining since the 1960s, and are quickly disappearing from their northern range in Canada. Although swift numbers are also declining in Connecticut, they are still fairly common in our state. Therefore, it is imperative that research and monitoring of these birds be conducted now while there still may be time to stop their decline.

Chimney Swift Watch Brochure (PDF 2mb)

How to Get Involved!
Monitoring Your Own Chimney: The Wildlife Division is requesting reports from property owners who have chimney swifts in their chimneys.

Reminder! If you are Summer Swift Lord, and you have been using your fireplace through the winter and plan to have your chimney swept, please remember to sweep it in late March, before the birds return.

Chimney Swift Nest Monitoring Guide (PDF)

Monitoring Roosting Locations: The Wildlife Division would like to know about any active chimney swift roosts that you may encounter. You can distinguish between a nesting chimney and a roosting chimney by the number of birds. Roosting chimneys have more than 10 birds.

Look for a Chimney Swift Roost in Your Neighborhood (PDF)

Site monitors count the number of chimney swifts that enter roost chimneys in the evening at sunset. A night of monitoring usually starts about 20 minutes before sunset and lasts, on average, just under an hour.
From analysis of chimney swift roost counts, we have decided to focus on 2 time periods for the next stage of our monitoring effort -- summer roosting counts and migration roosting counts.
Summer Roost Counts - For roosts that have proven to be large and stable "summer roosts," 3 counts will be conducted in June (only on dates with no rain or storms). Observers will be required to count the total number of birds entering the roost. These observations will be used as part of a long-term monitoring index of chimney swift populations. (Summer Roost Count Results for 2011-2013 PDF)
2014 Summer Roost Monitoring Sites:
• Willimantic: Nathan Hale
• Willimantic Town Hall
• Farmington High School
• Mitchell School, Woodbury
• Center Elementary School, Oxford
• New Hartford Elementary School
• Tootin Hills Elementary School, West Simsbury
• St. Joseph's Church and Israel Putnam Elementary School, Meriden
• Gainfield Elementary School, Southbury
Fall Migration Roost Counts - For roosts that have proven to be large "migration roosts," exploratory observations will be conduted during August into September. Evening roost counts will be conducted at each of the sites at least one time per week during the migration period. Observers will be required to learn how to identify molting birds, as well as count the total number of birds entering the roost. These observations will be used toward developing an index of productivity for the birds. (Fall Migration Roost Count Results 2011-2013 PDF)
2014 Migration Roost Monitoring Sites:
• Housatonic Valley Regional High School, Falls Village
• Woodbury Intermediate School
• Tootin Hills Elementary School, West Simsbury
• East Windsor Middle School, Broad Brook
• Cranberry Mansion, Norwalk
• Israel Putnam Elementary School, Meriden

Who to Contact:
If you are interested in being a volunteer monitor, or if you would like to report a chimney swift roost, please contact Shannon Kearney, DEEP Wildlife Division, Sessions Woods WMA, PO Box 1550, Burlington, CT 06013; 860-675-8130. Email:

Weekly Update of Chimney Swift Roost Counts
Chimney Swift Roost Counts were conducted from mid-April through mid-September in 2013 and were  updated weekly. Check out the final Weekly Update (PDF) for 2013 and look for new updates when counts begin in 2014.
Swift Conservation through Schools 
{Chimney Swift} The Swift Conservation through Schools project is funded by the Connecticut Endangered Species/Wildlife Income Tax Check-off Program. The project targets conservation of the chimney swift, a greatest conservation need bird species that inhabits homes and buildings during summer across Connecticut. Each year over a half a million chimney swifts disappear across their range. Many of the roosting structures where swifts congregate are the chimneys of our local schools, making our buildings a vital habitat resource for these birds. This project provides educational materials for classroom use and for display at these local schools and other public buildings to help engage students and the public about the important role their buildings play in chimney swift conservation.
The Wildlife Division is inviting schools to incorporate this program into their curriculum. The Connecticut Chimney Swift Curriculum (PDF) is targeted towards grades 1-2. However, we would like to recruit middle and high school students to become Chimney Swift Ambassadors – this would involve learning about the plight of chimney swifts and then sharing their knowledge with the younger students in their school districts.
Extension in Development
The University of Connecticut has developed the high school curriculum to incorporate the biology of chimney swifts into an online problem-based science inquiry activity.

Who to Contact:
Shannon Kearney, DEEP Wildlife Division, Sessions Woods WMA, PO Box 1550, Burlington, CT 06013; 860-675-8130. Email:

For More Information:
To learn more about chimney swift research and monitoring efforts, read the following articles from the Wildlife Division's bimonthly magazine, Connecticut Wildlife.
May is Swiftly Approaching  CT Wildlife (PDF 2mb)
Search for Urban Aerial Acrobats  CT Wildlife (PDF 1.2mb)
“Windham Beneath their Wings” – A Swift Renovation Conservation Story
An example of how to renovate your building and conserve swift habitat

There are international travelers living in town hall and the town engineer is trying to make them comfortable. Every year, in late April, they arrive in Willimantic, Connecticut. Every day at dusk they slip into the Windham Town Hall chimney and go to sleep. The chimney?! Who would sleep in a chimney?
The migrants are chimney swifts — small, dark birds whose habits are in their name. They roost and nest in chimneys. These birds travel more than 3,000 miles each year, one way, from South America to the eastern United States to nest and raise their young. With feet built like grappling hooks, they cannot perch like a sparrow does on a branch or even a bird feeder, but they excel at hanging from rough walls, like the inside of a chimney. Before New England was settled by the colonists, chimney swifts used big, hollow trees for nesting and roosting sites. As the trees came down and buildings went up, the birds moved into chimneys on buildings and homes.
Willimantic is one of only 58 designated “Community Wildlife Habitats” and chimney swifts sure do appreciate it!
While populations of these birds are declining all across North America, Willimantic appears to be a chimney swift hot spot, with nesting pairs in about 4% of the chimneys all over town. Like many buildings of its age, the Windham Town Hall is amply supplied with chimneys, and big ones. In 2012, DEEP and UConn researchers confirmed that the town hall was hosting as many as 400 chimney swifts per night. All of these birds roost together in a single chimney, huddling together for warmth during migration and also roosting there during summer if they aren’t tending to nests. Chimney swifts are known to use the same chimneys year after year, so it is likely that the birds and their ancestors have been using the same town hall chimney since the building was built in 1896, snatching insects out of the air over town all day and sleeping in the chimney at night.
Given the chimney’s age, Town Engineer Joe Gardner wasn’t surprised to discover that the chimney needed work. Given what he knew about the birds, Joe waited until after they flew south for the winter to have the chimney inspected. It was discovered that the furnace needed to be replaced. However, the new, more efficient furnace would require a flue liner, rendering the chimney unsuitable for the swifts because they would not be able to grip the steel liner.
Town Engineer Gardner worked with DEEP and UConn biologists to ensure that the chimney swifts could still call the town hall home. Joe was able to coordinate with heating specialists to vent the new furnace through an alternate opening, thus allowing the swifts to continue using their preferred chimney. Because of these efforts, the town hall will remain a haven for wildlife in Willimantic, and state biologists will be able to continue using this site to research and monitor the swifts with the hope of stopping their decline.
If you happen to be near the Windham Town Hall at dusk between the end of April and the beginning of September . . . look up! The swifts are landing!
Coming soon - Swift Renovation Solutions
{State Wildlife Grants logo}
State Wildlife Grants
{Tax Check-off logo}
Endangered Species/Wildlife Income Tax Check-off Program
  {UConn Ornithology logo} UConn Ornithology Research Group
{Beardsley Zoo logo}
Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo
{Master Wildlife Conservationist emblem}
Illustration provided by Judy Grund, Master Wildlife Conservationist Program
{Biodiversity Research Institute logo}
Learn more about the Wildlife Division's coordination with Mercury Researh and Monitoring at the Biodiversity Research Institute
{Trent University logo}    {Queen} Learn more about the Wildlife Division's coordination with cutting edge diet analysis techniques and PEARL

Content last updated on May 20, 2014.