Monday, July 25, 2011

What is chirping in my chimney?

Have you heard chirping noises in your chimney and wondered what it was? Chances are you have probably heard the chattering of Chimney Swifts, a unique species of bird that nest only in chimneys. Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s Wildlife Education & Rehabilitation staff receives many calls about these birds at this time of year as it is their primary nesting season.

Sometimes called “flying cigars” Chimney Swifts are small, dark colored birds with long pointed wings and stiff tails. The only swifts commonly found in eastern North America, they have a cylindrical body and tend to be similar in appearance to swallows. Just like bats, swifts are aerial foragers whose diets consist primarily of flying insects.

Instead of perching like most birds, swifts use their long claws to grasp chimneys and other vertical surfaces. They are often in flight, and even bathe while flying! Swifts are able to fly over a body of water, smack the water with their breast and then bounce back up, shaking off excess water from their feathers as they fly away.

Chimney Swifts are also known for their distinctive nest construction. The parents weave small twigs together in the shape of a half-saucer and then glue the nest to the side of a chimney with their saliva. Their nests can hold anywhere from 1-5 eggs.

Although Chimney Swifts are not currently a species of concern, their population numbers are decreasing across their range because they are losing nesting sites. A contributing factor may be that construction of chimney flues have become narrower and covered, leaving Chimney Swifts fewer places to nest.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Coordinator Amy LeMonds has found Chimney Swifts nesting in the Center’s chimney this summer. According to LeMonds, another factor limiting nesting sites for Chimney Swifts are that people buy caps for their chimneys to keep raccoons out, but in doing so they also prevent Chimney Swifts from nesting.

LeMonds recommends that homeowners purchase caps that are large enough to let swifts in but can still keep raccoons at bay. Additional information on how to make your chimney a good habitat for Chimney Swifts can be found online from the Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project.

According to LeMonds, swifts can be difficult to rehabilitate. In most cases, if you find a baby Chimney Swift, the best thing you can do for it is to stick it back up in the chimney flue so that its parents can care for it. If you find a baby bird and are unsure of what to do or if you have any wildlife questions, please call Lake Erie Nature & Science Center at 440-871-2900.

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