Chimney swifts are small birds with wing length averaging 130.4 mm and tail length averaging 39.1 mm. They weigh approximately 21 grams. The bird's body and head are dark grayish to brownish-gray color on the upper part, slightly paler below. The tail has stiff bristle-like or spiny feather tips. There may be as many as seven tail spines. The eyes of chimney swifts are large. In flight these birds are described as looking like a "cigar with wings." Male and female birds look the same.
Chimney swifts are native to the Nearctic and Neotropical regions. They are found in North and South America, ranging from central Alberta to Newfoundland, then south to Florida, the Gulf States, and eastern Texas. They also migrate, spending the winters at the headwaters of the Amazon in western Brazil and eastern Peru. They are sometimes seen in Greenland and Bermuda.
In temperate zones, chimney swifts are found most often in areas settled by humans. In the tropics, they are also found near irrigated agricultural lands and areas inhabited by humans. In natural tropical settings, chimney swifts are found at the edge of rivers bordered by forest or the edge of lowland evergreen forests and secondary growth scrub, and even over the Andean valleys in Peru and Ecuador. They can be found at elevations of 2500 m. (Chantler and Driessens, 2000)
Chimney swifts are monogamous; records indicate that some chimney swifts will remain with the same mate for up to eight or nine years. (Dexter, 1969)
Chimney swifts gather together to breed in colonies. Some nesting colonies can be quite large, including thousands of individuals. The exact number of individuals varies depending on the size of the nesting area.
Chimney swifts build their nests in chimneys or hollow trees. The basket-like, half-cup nest is made of sticks secured to the inner wall of a chimney or tree by the hardened saliva of the swifts. The nest is usually placed at least 15.5 m off the ground, but this can vary greatly. A female lays 3 to 7 white, glossy eggs per clutch. Each egg is approximately 2.0 by 1.3 cm. Both parents help incubate the eggs, which means that they will take turns sitting on the nest to keep the eggs warm until they hatch. Nestlings may leave the nest 14 to 19 days after hatching but the first flight typically occurs 30 days after hatching. Chimney swifts probably reach sexual maturity (have the ability to breed) one year after they have left the nest.
Young chimney swifts are helpless when hatched and are fed by both parents.
Sometimes birds other than the breeding pair will help feed and care for young, a behavior called cooperative breeding. Chimney swifts are known to form cooperative breeding groups of three to four birds. These groups may remain as a nesting unit throughout the season, sharing incubation, brooding, and feeding duties. Records indicate that one colony had more than one-third of the breeding pairs form cooperative groups; there were 22 threesomes and 6 foresomes.
A female chimney swift was recorded to have lived ten years.
Chimney swifts use both their feet and tail to cling to vertical surfaces. These birds are highly gregarious, and several thousand may be found roosting in large industrial chimneys.
Migration begins in August and continues into early October. No chimney swifts have been recorded in the northern part of their range after October. They return in early spring, usually in April.
We do not have information on the home range for chimney swifts at this time.
Chimney swift calls are described as a twitter. The most common twitterings are accelerating and decelerating chipping.
Chimney swifts also are likely to use touch and vision in communication. They perceive their environment through vision, hearing, touch, and a weakly developed sense of smell.
Chimney swifts feed exclusively while in flight. They are primarily insectivores. They forage by hovering over tree branches and catching insects in flight; they take a variety of insect and spider prey. Forty to fifty chimney swifts were recorded hovering at the outer branches or diving through the top branches of a sweetgum tree in pursuit of a particular species of weevil.
As insectivores chimney swifts affect insect populations throughout their range.
There are no known adverse affects of chimney swifts on humans.
Chimney swifts are valuable as erradicators of insect pests. (Palmer and Fowler, 1975)
Chimney swifts have been described as being as peaceful as doves and always worthy of protection. They are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but are not listed by CITES, US ESA or the IUCN.
Bird's nest soup is made from the nest of an Asiatic swift, a close relative of the chimney swift. The soup is based on the dried saliva that holds the nest together. Another close relative of chimney swifts are Vaux's swifts, Chaetura vauxi, which occur in the western United States.
From 1918 to 1932, over 1,600 people visited National, Iowa to study the nesting habits of chimney swifts in a tower designed by Althea Sherman and built in 1915 by local carpenters. The bird tower was approximately 8.5 meters high and 0.3 meters square. An artificial chimney, running down the center of the tower, measured approximately half the tower's height. A door and two glass windows allowed people to enter and observe the chimney swifts. After Althea Sherman's death, the tower was moved to the Andy Mountain Camp Ground, Harper's Ferry, Iowa. In the early 1980's, the tower was still standing and was being used for chimney swift studies.
Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Janice Pappas (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.
animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.
union of egg and spermatozoan
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.
Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
uses sight to communicate
Chantler, P., G. Driessens. 2000. Swifts: A Guide to the Swifts and Treeswifts of the World, 2nd. ed. Sussex: Pica Press.
Dexter, R. 1969. Banding and nesting studies of the Chimney Swift, 1944-1968. The Ohio Journal of Science, 69(4): 193-213.
Dexter, R. 1952. Extra-parental cooperation in the nesting of Chimney Swifts. The Wilson Bulletin, 64(3): 133-139.
Dexter, R. 1956. Ten-year life history of a banded Chimney Swift. The Auk, 73: 276-280.
Palmer, E., H. Fowler. 1975. Fieldbook of Natural History, 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.
Whittemore, M. 1981. Chimney Swifts and Their Relatives. Jackson, MS: Nature Books Publishers.