By Cheryl Conley, TWRC Wildlife Center
If you’re hearing twittering followed by rapid, high-pitched chirps in your fireplace, you’ve got Chimney Swifts but before you call an exterminator to have them removed, it’s important to know that the birds have the law on their side. They are protected by federal law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It is illegal to remove or disturb their nests, eggs or young during the breeding season. Any knowledgeable, respected exterminating company won’t touch them. Once the babies are old enough to chirp, they’ll only be around for a couple of weeks before they leave the nest so hang in there and leave them alone. They cause little to no damage.
Sadly, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Chimney Swift populations have decreased by 72% since 1966. Their favorite nesting places are old hollow trees and masonry chimneys. With urban sprawl many of the trees are being removed and newer homes and buildings are being constructed without fireplaces. If fireplaces are being built, newer materials such as metal liners are being used making it impossible for the Swifts to cling to the sides.
Once a nesting site has been found, Mom and Dad Swift construct a half saucer-shaped nest made of twigs. The twigs are held together by glue-like saliva from a gland under the bird’s tongue. The nest is “glued” to the side of the chimney.
Chimney Swifts fly almost constantly except when roosting overnight and nesting. They even bathe while flying. They fly down to the water, hit the surface with their body, bounce up and shake off the water. When it is time to rest, they don’t sit on perches. They have long claws that cling to textured walls and other textured vertical surfaces such as the walls of your chimney.
Swifts are very beneficial. They gobble up thousands of mosquitoes, flies and other insects while in flight. Two parents along with their nestlings will consume up to 12,000 flying insects every day.
Come fall the birds migrate back to the Amazon River Basin.
Chimney Swifts are admitted to TWRC Wildlife Center every year. As part of our mission, we want to educate the public to the laws regarding this species as well as many other migratory species. If you have Chimney Swifts in your chimney, please leave them alone and don’t risk the fines and possible jail time associated with disturbing them. If you have questions, please give us a call at 713-468-8972 or check our website at www.twrcwildlifecenter.org.