July 27, 2020 - Brick chimneys may be a key component to conserving acrobatic, fast-flying Chimney Swifts.
That's why the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group is making a special appeal to Bird City Wisconsin communities and their residential and commercial property owners to take an online survey if their chimneys are currently being used by swifts. The Chimney Swift survey is online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LQ6MSRB.
Information gained by the survey will help shape a pilot project aimed at helping owners pay for chimney repairs, so the owners are more likely to keep the structures. Biologists with Wisconsin DNR's Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation (NHC) are part of the working group.
“Sadly, Chimney Swifts, like many other aerial insectivores including whip-poor-wills, nighthawks, and swallows, are declining,” said Rich Staffen, an NHC biologist and working group member (email). “There are no definitive reasons identified yet for why this is, but the ongoing decline in insect populations is a major concern, and bird experts also know the removal or capping of old chimneys is removing suitable nesting and roosting locations for these birds.”
Chimney Swifts nest in eastern North America (east of the Rockies) in the summer and migrate to South America in the fall. Historically, the birds congregated before migrating in large standing hollow trees in old-growth forests. However, as old-growth forests disappeared from North America, the swifts discovered that brick chimneys served as an easy and abundant replacement.
Chimney Swifts have slender bodies, very long, narrow, curved wings, and short tapered tails. They fly rapidly, beating their wings nearly constantly, often twisting from side to side and banking erratically. The birds often give a distinctive high-pitched twittering call while flying.
Swifts can cling to a rough vertical surface like the inside of a hollow tree or a chimney. Hundreds of native Chimney Swifts may congregate in communal roosts, gathering strength before flying to South America and creating a spectacle that looks like smoke pouring into brick chimneys in the fall.
“Chimneys are crucial habitat for swifts, which depend upon manmade structures for nesting and roosting before fall migration,” said Sandy Schwab, chair of the working group (email), adding that a member of the working group may contact respondents in the future to discuss their answers. “We’d like to know if you have a chimney that is being used by swifts for nesting or resting, and if you do, if it’s in need of repairs. This information will help us develop our project to help preserve habitat for chimney swifts.”
The survey will help working group members understand which chimneys are being used for roosting and nesting by these birds and if those chimneys require any repair to keep them as a viable option for the birds into the future.
Photo: An adult Chimney Swift and a nestling rest in a stick nest inside a chimney. Photo by Nancy J. Nabak.