They’re on their way back! Chimney Swifts, capturing my imagination and respect, are flying a 3,000- mile journey from South America’s Amazon River Basin to spend May through August in my county, to breed and raise their young. About five inches in length, with a twelve-inch tip to tip wing span, these sooty gray to blue-black heroes are fascinating to watch, as well as, extremely valuable to our quality of life. The fantastic flyers emerge from their roosts at dawn and dusk to snatch nasty mosquitoes, gnats, biting flies, spittlebugs, aphids, winged ants, wasps, mayflies, stoneflies and termites from the air. With long, scythe-shaped wings and a short stubby tail that spreads when they make crazy, acrobatic turns in flight, those sleek little insectivores deserve our respect and our protection. Two Chimney Swift parents and their offspring will consume over 12,000 flying insect pests every day, that’s – every day! Chimney Swifts once had opportunities to nest inside tree hollows, but with the loss of mature trees and similar wooded habitat, all over the country, they have taken up residency inside chimneys or any structure they find suitable. Unfortunately, since the 1980’s, many homeowners have capped or closed chimneys that were once used for nesting. New construction design is another reason Swifts cannot enter a chimney. Some houses are built without chimneys or chimneys that use small metal flue pipes rather than clay liners that Swifts can hang onto. Devastatingly, Chimney Swift numbers are declining. On the flip side, insect pest numbers are growing. How do those sayings go? Sometimes we chop off our noses to spite our face, or we end up shooting ourselves in the foot. I believe that’s what one does when they become annoyed by the Chimney Swift’s presence and block an entrance to a chimney used by a Swift couple to roost and raise their babies. Although the sound of Chimney Swift newborns is not everyone’s favorite melody, normally by the time the babies become loud enough to hear, they are less than a couple of weeks from being old enough to feed themselves. After that, the cute, chittering noise of a baby bird begging for food is over. It might be an entire three weeks. Are we so intolerant of something so natural that lasts a mere few weeks that we are willing to give up the benefits Chimney Swifts provide? I don’t know about you, but I can’t wield a fly swatter fast enough to be the extraordinary bug killer a Chimney Swift is as it soars through the sky vacuuming those mosquitoes who would surely make a blood meal of me if they had the chance. I appreciate seeing a Chimney Swift colony chattering overhead in the evening while I enjoy supper on the deck. I’m confident they are helping to keep our menacing insect population down. Before the first Carolina cold snap, my Chimney Swifts will return to their favorite resort area in South America. We don’t start using our fireplaces until then anyway. Loss of habitat in this country is obscene, and some people truly don’t understand the Chimney Swift’s worth. Please keep in mind that Chimney Swifts are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and should not be intentionally harmed. Chimney Swift towers are now being built across the US. Unfortunately, North Carolina has only four and none are in the coastal region where I live. Texas holds the record with eighty-three, so I’m following their example and have introduced Project Chimney Swift Tower in my area. I’ve already received interest from various youth groups. If you have Swifts in your chimney and don’t want them there, for whatever reason, please call a wildlife shelter before removing them. You might consider building a tower to accommodate these tiny environmental activists. Maybe a Scout Troop or a 4-H club would enjoy taking on a conservation project like a Chimney Swift tower. If saving one of our natural resources sounds like something you’d like to do, please call your nearest shelter for information and recommendations for construction sites. The nasty mosquitoes will hate you for it, but your spring and summer, resident Swifts will be appreciative and pay you back many times over. You can find very simple instructions for towers online at www.chimneyswifts.org. Protecting our natural resources and improving the environment is a darn good thing. It confuses me why some folks would rather inhale a fog of insect ridding chemicals than allow environmentally friendly Chimney Swifts who, by their diet and most efficient exterminating nature, are capable of doing the job. Besides all that, they’re cute, don’t you think?
Chimney Swift fledglings raised with plenty of TLC and mealworms by rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, 100 Wildlife Way, Newport, NC. This tiny trio is gearing up to practice their flight skills and ultimately join a Swift colony already engaged in environmental duties.
author of Save Them All