Previous Page - Table of Contents - Next Page


CHIMNEY SWIFT. Chætura pelagica
5.43 in.

Ad.— Entire bird sooty-brown, palest on throat; wings long and narrow; tail either cigar-shaped, or, when spread, fan-shaped.

Nest, a shallow platform of sticks glued to the inside of a chimney. Eggs, white.

The Chimney Swift is an abundant summer resident throughout New England and New York. It arrives toward the end of April or early in May, and leaves toward the end of August; small flocks, presumably migrants from farther north, are often seen, particularly along the valleys of large rivers, till late in September.

The nest is made of short twigs broken off by the bird while flying. It is a moot point whether the bill or the feet are used for this purpose. These twigs are glued together and to the bricks in the chimney by saliva, and form a shallow platform on which the eggs are laid. In northern New England and New York the Swift still builds occasionally in hollow trees, as all its ancestors once did, or “on the inner walls of barns and outbuildings" (Brewster). Rain sometimes loosens the nest, which then falls to the bottom. The young, when fed, keep up an energetic crying, easily heard through the walls of the chimney.

The Swift's common note is either a loud staccato chip, chip, chip, or the same notes run rapidly together. This chippering, heard from little groups high overhead, is often the first intimation of the bird's presence in spring, and it is continued constantly till mid-July, then less frequently or only rarely till the bird's departure.

Chimney Swifts resemble swallows in their appearance on the wing and in their manner of feeding, but may be distinguished after a little practice by the appearance of the tail, which is short and cigar-shaped, or fan-shaped when spread, but never notched, forked, or square. Their flight, too, is characteristic; they alternate rapid bat-like strokes of the wings with periods when they glide with their wings curved in a long narrow crescent. Just before descending into a chimney and often when two are flying together they raise their wings at an angle over the body and keep them so for an instant. As a rule they hawk high, sometimes very high, but occasionally they fly low over grass, and they commonly fly low over water. Swallows frequently light on wires and twigs, but Swifts, as far as I know, have never been seen to perch. At night, and in the heat of the day, they cling to the rough bricks inside the chimney, supporting themselves with the help of the needle-like tips of their tail feathers. Marvelous tales are told by the older writers of enormous numbers of Swifts which resorted nightly to certain well-known hollow trees to roost. It is still possible to see several hundred gathering about some tall deserted chimney down which they vanish at the approach of dusk.

Previous Page - Table of Contents - Next Page