DEEP: Wildlife Division Chimney Swift Page

Chimney Swift Watch

 
{Chimney Swift artwork}
 
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. We have conducted a decade of investigations to help understand and stop this decline: A Decade of Swift Conservation with the Wildlife Action Plan.
 
 

1. Be a Courteous "Swift Lord"

Birds in My Chimney?!
If you hear chirping or “chittering” inside your chimney, you may have nesting chimney swifts! Chimneys that are made of stone, brick, or masonry flue tiles with mortared joints provide the right surfaces for nesting and roosting chimney swifts.

Is that a Problem?
In a word - No! A bird that eats thousands of insects a day is an asset! Chimney swifts do not pose a disease risk for humans, and their presence does not affect the function of your chimney. Unlike creosote build-up, swift nests in chimneys do NOT cause a fire hazard.

How Do I Become a Good Swift Lord?

  • Have your chimney cleaned in mid-March after the wood-burning season ends and before the swifts arrive.
  • Inspect your damper, then keep it closed during the nesting season (May-July) to prevent birds from flying into the house and becoming trapped or injured.
  • Report your swift nest to MASS Audubon’s Database
  • Manage your yard with native plantings and avoid the use of pesticides to keep an ecological balance and a good food source for your chimney swifts.

Please remember! Chimney swifts are protected by law and a federal permit is required to disturb their active nests.

2. Find and Protect Your Local Swift Roost!

Although nesting chimneys are available in the Northeast, larger chimneys used for large concentrations of 100-1,000 roosting birds may be more limited. This limitation may increase mortality from hurricanes and other weather events during migration, thus contributing to declines in the local population. From chimney roost monitoring efforts in Connecticut, we know that these roosting chimneys are often renovated, removed, or fall down if they are no longer a vital component of a building. These changes result in an outright loss of habitat. You can help chimney swifts by identifying and preserving important roosting locations. Protecting important roosts is most effective through local grassroots efforts.

Find and Document Roosts Using These Guidelines:
Look for a Chimney Swift Roost in Your Neighborhood (PDF)

Swift Renovation Solutions:
If you are considering renovations to your chimney, view Renovate with Swifts in Mind (PDF) for solutions to keep your chimney available for nesting or migrating chimney swifts.

The Wildlife Division has materials to help you educate others about the importance of your roost:

Contact Shannon Kearney-McGee if you would like more information or help preserving your local roost at DEEP Wildlife Division, Sessions Woods WMA, P.O. Box 1550, Burlington, CT 06013; 860-424-3011; email: shannon.kearney@ct.gov.

 
 
Monitoring Efforts

 
Chimney swifts roost counts were conducted at designated monitoring sites around Connecticut during 2011-2013. 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. There are 2 monitoring periods for roost counts: Summer Roost Counts and Migration Counts.
 
Summer Roost Counts - 3 counts were conducted in June on roosts that were proven to be large and stable, "summer roosts" (only on dates with no rain or storms). Observers were required to count the total number of birds entering the roost. These observations were used as part of a long-term monitoring index of chimney swift populations. You can view swift counts from past monitoring: (Summer Roost Count Results for 2011-2013 PDF)
 
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
• Gainfield Elementary School, Southbury
• Cranberry Park Mansion, Norwalk
• Grove Manor Apartments, Thomaston
• Center School, Thomaston
 
Migration Roost Counts - Monitoring has shown that the size of migration roosts vary from year to year, with roosts being large in some years and small in others. Roosts can also occur spontaneously at sites that did not have roosting birds in past years. For these types of migration, we encourage observers to monitor roosts for the Chimney Swift Conservation Association's “A Swift Night Out.” These counts occur on one night (Friday, Saturday, or Sunday) over the second weekend of August and/or September. Observers arrive at the roost about 30 minutes before sunset and count the birds as they enter the chimney. The total count can be entered online into the A Swift Night Out database.
 
Past monitoring data from typical "fall roosts:" Fall Migration Roost Count Results 2011-2013 (PDF)
 
Suggested 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
 
 

 
{Chimney Swift} The Swift Conservation through Schools project was 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 Connecticut Chimney Swift Curriculum (PDF) is targeted towards grades 1-2.
 
Who to Contact:
For additional information or questions regarding the curriculum, contact Shannon Kearney, 860-424-3011 or email: shannon.kearney@ct.gov.
 
For a two week loan of the educational materials, please contact Laura Rogers-Castro, 860-424-3011, or email: laura.rogers-castro@ct.gov.
 
 
“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 20% 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!
 
Swift Renovation Solutions:
If you are considering renovations to your chimney, view Renovate with Swifts in Mind (PDF) for solutions to keep your chimney available for nesting or migrating chimney swifts.
 
 

 
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)
 
Or, contact the Wildlife Division: Shannon Kearney, 860-424-3011, email: shannon.kearney@ct.gov.
 
 

 
{State Wildlife Grants logo} State Wildlife Grants
{Tax Check-off logo} Endangered Species/Wildlife Income Tax Check-off Program
{Master Wildlife Conservationist emblem} Illustration provided by Judy Grund, Master Wildlife Conservationist Program
 
 
Content last updated on October 21, 2016.