You may have noticed little bat-like creatures living in your chimney during the months when it is not in use. These birds are often confused as bats because of their jerky flight, but are actually completely harmless Chimney Swifts. These tiny little birds migrate from South America during the Spring and leave the northeast around early November, just as the cold weather starts to come through. While a migrating bird may not seem like a big deal, the problem comes in when they are no longer welcome guests. Chimney Swifts are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This Federal Law prohibits the removal of any migrating bird without a federal permit. In addition to the prohibited removal, these migratory birds always return to the same nesting spots year after year, therefore, if you had a nest in your chimney last year, you can expect the flock to return this year. If you decide you do not want the birds to return to your home, preventative measures must be taken within the proper window of time. On the other hand, if you would like to provide a home for these birds, it is best to learn ways to help them find and enjoy your home.
You May Not Recognize The Sound in Your Chimney – Take A Listen!
What is a Chimney Swift?
The Chimney Swift is the most common migrating birds found in North America. While they are sometimes mistaken as bats, the Chimney Swift actually has many unique characteristics. For starters, unlike other birds, the Chimney Swift does not find comfort in the branches of a tree. In fact, these birds have trouble balancing on horizontal tree limbs or anything horizontal for that matter. Chimney Swifts are accustomed to the vertical and textured walls of a chimney or the insides of a hollowed out tree. Their legs and feet are designed for the lifestyle of holding onto the ridges of the walls. Another distinct attribute of the Chimney Swift are the wings. The wingspan of the otherwise 5 inch long bird is about 12 inches and the wing shape looks like narrow half crescents. The look of their wings gave this bird the nickname of the “flying cigar”. In fact, they mostly live in the air and typically only land to sleep at night and raise their young. The nests they build jut out from the chimney walls and are held together by the bird’s glue-like saliva. To survive, the Chimney Swift catches up to one third of its weight everyday in insects during fight. In the summer months, they migrate to the North and when the weather turns chilly, the birds head back down to South America to avoid the cold.
What is the big deal?
Unfortunately, in Connecticut, the Chimney Swift population has been declining at about 4 percent each year. In the past, these birds nested in hollowed out trees but with the loss of much of their natural habitat, the birds found other means of protection in stone chimneys. This move to a different type of habitat allowed them to have more options on where to nest. But these days, with more and more homes being built without chimneys and the existing ones installing chimney caps or metal flue liners, it is once again becoming difficult for Chimney Swifts to find a nesting place.
Chimney Swift migration season starts in late March and the birds return to the south before the first frost in early November. With this migration pattern and the laws against their removal, if your home is chosen as a nesting spot, the birds must be left alone till the time when they decide to fly away as the leaves start changing colors. But hosting Chimney Swifts is not terrible. The birds are most often left unnoticed until the time when their young are grown up enough to make chirping sounds when the parents bring home food for them. During this time, which happens about 2 weeks before the fall migration, the chirping sounds can be very persistent. But there is one major benefit to keeping Chimney Swifts around, the little birds eat about a third of their weight in insects every day. This includes troublesome mosquitoes, termites, beetles, and many other tiny pests. You can even consider the minor disturbances at the end of their stay as your only sacrifice for enjoying a bug free summer!
Many bird lovers actually construct special towers designed to house the visiting Chimney Swifts as they migrate into the area looking for places to nest. You can find easy to build Chimney Swift Towers online and construct one near enough to your home that you can enjoy watching the birds, but far enough away that they will not create any problems. If your chimney is capped, they will look for the next best thing and find your tower. Some communities that are known as annual nesting grounds have constructed large towers for these migrating birds. The swifts favor larger chimneys, so abandoned factories with smokestacks are a favorite place for a summer home.
How can I become a Chimney Swift host?
If you are not against hosting a little family of birds on your own, there are a few ways to encourage their presence in your chimney. Here are a few tips for attracting and keeping the birds around your home.
• After your chimney has been used all winter long, have a chimney sweep come out and clean the creosote from the walls to ensure it is a good clean home for your feathery friends.
• To prepare your chimney for the Chimney Swifts, remove your chimney cap during the season they will be visiting and remember to replace the cap once again after the birds have left.
• While the birds are nesting, ensure the dampers are closed so that baby birds do not fall down the chimney shaft.
• If at any point a baby does fall down the chimney shaft, gently guide it to the walls of the chimney and allow it to climb back up to the nest.
• After the birds have flown away for the winter, have your chimney sweep inspect the chimney once more and remove the bird nest to ensure you have safe fires all winter long till the birds come back in the spring!
• Chimney Swifts are pleasant guests and will even keep your home insect free for the summer!
How do I get rid of them?
Letting a family of migratory birds may not be for everyone. But the good news is that it is very simple to bird proof your chimney. This is the purpose of the chimney cap. The only tricky part is to install the cap while the birds are living down south. When the chimney professional comes over to install the chimney cap, have them check for an active nest of birds and if one if found, reschedule the cap installation for after the Chimney Swifts have gone back to South America. It is illegal for a chimney sweep to remove the nest or eggs or a migratory bird. Once the chimney is bird free and cleaned, and a cap is installed, you are now safe from any nesting birds. Another bonus is that a chimney cap is good for many other reasons besides bird control. The chimney cap will also prevent falling leaves, rain water and other harmful creatures or things from falling into the chimney. Keeping the birds out is a simple fix and furthermore, a chimney cap is a good addition to any chimney anyway.
Ultimately, it may be nice to host family of Chimney Swifts, but if you are not comfortable with the little birds inhabiting your chimney, it takes only a minor addition to your chimney to solve the problem forever.
Check Out These Swifts Entering A Chimney!