My life is about living with nature – here you can live it with me!

Chimney Swifts in Allegany State Park

Chimney Swift
Chimney Swift

One of my joys of being around Allegany State Park is watching the Chimney Swifts entering chimneys around the Administration Building during dusk hours. These unique birds look almost like flying cigars and are remarkable fliers. You typically hear them chattering before you ever get a chance to see them. Chimney Swifts are constantly flying throughout the day in search of food and can travel long distances. They will roost and nest in chimneys and are historically known to use the hollow trees in the forest for nesting. I sometimes wonder if they are not still doing this in some areas.

Swift's Head Swift Tail
Swifts funny head and its tiny tail

During the spring and fall migration period, the Chimney Swift can be very social birds and will migrate together in a large group (more so during the fall). During the breeding season the literature states that they are no longer social and will not nest together. I have found multiple nests that have fallen down the chimney and I am starting to believe this belief is not 100% accurate. Any evening during the summer you can easily find 25-50 individuals entering the chimneys around the Administration Building. I have observed many individuals entering the chimneys during daylight hours as if they were nest building, incubating or feeding young, etc. . . . Something unique is happening here that others are not observing anywhere else.

Chimney Swift Nest
A Chimney Swift nest that I found!

When building the nest . . . . the Chimney Swift will breaking off some small twigs and use their saliva to glue the nest together. Incubation of the eggs takes almost three weeks and then another two-three weeks before the nestlings fledge. I have only found one (maybe two) dead fledglings that have fallen down the chimney and couldn’t return to the nest. Typically the only time that I find a swift that has fallen down the chimney is in the early spring once they first arrive. I will pull them out of the chimney (obviously band them) and then set them free. Only two individuals that have banded (due to falling) were after second year birds and almost always I find these individuals as a second year bird (meaning they were born the previous summer).

Banded Swift
One of the Chimney Swifts I banded

All summer I wanted to do a post on these great birds and just yesterday I started worrying that they have moved south already. So, I decided to head over to the Park Restaurant to get my dinner and then ate my taco salad outside where I waited for the swifts to arrive. I was not disappointed with what I estimated being around 150 individuals entering our two large chimneys.

Video of some Swifts entering the Chimney!

As you can see in the video, the swifts were all circling around the chimney and then begin to drop down into the chimney . . . . but quickly turn (before entering) and then join the group who were still circling overhead. The video does show a few individuals dropping down into the chimney (they are fun to watch drop) but most others wait till the last second to enter. It was interesting reviewing the 300+ pictures I took, where I found a few photos with a dragonfly species flying with the Chimney Swifts. It is always fun finding things you would never expect to find.

Chimney Swifts
Chimney Swifts at Dusk at the Administration Building

It is only a matter of time till they disappear from Allegany area and it is very possible that some of these guys could be going as far as the Rain Forest of Peru before returning back the following summer. You can be sure that I will be here waiting for their return.

24 responses

  1. Marg

    I really enjoyed the video Tom-I’ve seen Swifts but only during the day once-the close up of the head is fabulous!

    8 September 2007 at 5:47 pm

  2. I live next to an old school building Tom, and they must number in the hundreds every night in the summer and fall, there is a huge chimney they fly in and out of. It is really neat to watch them, they will fly in giant circles and then a group will break off and fly right up our street in search of insects.

    I have lived pretty much in the same house for 44 years and every year with out fail they return and help keep the insect population in check in our neighborhood. I will try to see if I could possibly get a good shot one evening and If I do I will let you know and post it.

    8 September 2007 at 5:54 pm

  3. This is a very interesting bird, Tom! I love how they support themselves with their tail feathers on the chimney and make their nests!

    8 September 2007 at 6:18 pm

  4. @ Marg – the video is soo much better when done with full screen! I will have to show you when it’s owl season!
    @ Bernie – Very cool for sure! I would LOVE to see you do a posting of them! Thanks for the info on your birds!
    @ Pam – thanks and it is great how they use their tail (guess I didn’t post anything about their use of their tail like a woodpecker)! Just look at how worn their tail is! Thanks!

    8 September 2007 at 7:00 pm

  5. What wonderful pictures. I love birds and nature. The nest is so unique. I can’t believe the way they build it. We banded Monarchs two years ago and it was a really awesome experience. *nita*

    8 September 2007 at 9:40 pm

  6. I do hope you get to the bottom of this mystery Mon@rch. Let’s hope the restaurant doesn’t power up those chimneys with nests in them.

    9 September 2007 at 2:32 am

  7. I’ve never seen one close up like that! Wonderful shots Tom!

    9 September 2007 at 7:57 am

  8. I am learning so much from your blog. thanks Tom.
    From the picture of the administration building are the leaves turned that much already?

    9 September 2007 at 8:23 am

  9. Nice photos and video! I love how they make their nests, they’re so talented!

    9 September 2007 at 10:47 am

  10. Chimney Swifts are another one of my favorite birds…I lived in a downtown apartment that was a constant insect-eating frenzy. The Chimney Swifts would fly around all day and then bats would come out at night. I did not get many mosquito bites! They really are great fun to watch and easy to find in urban areas. I’ve heard a few still use hollow trees. Wouldn’t it be cool to find and film that?

    9 September 2007 at 11:28 am

  11. Great post! Thanks! I don’t think I’ve seen a picture of a Chimney Swift nest before (let alone in person).

    9 September 2007 at 1:32 pm

  12. @ Nita – thanks and they would make bird nest soup from these nest by boiling it! They would use the saliva in the soup! Hmm
    @ Barb – ½ of the chimneys in the building are capped and that’s one of them! But they don’t use them till fall when the birds are gone!
    @ jayne – they are very neat up close! Very large wings are what I enjoy looking at!
    @ Toni – blush, thanks and I guess your kind words is what helps me continue what I am trying to do here! That picture was taken fall, hmm maybe 2002 ish! They are turning but nothing like that!
    @ Chicago – thanks and they are great birds!
    @ Veery – I two enjoyed watching them when I lived in down town Pittsburgh! I lived on the 9th floor and both Swifts & Nighthawks would fly at eye level with me. Only wish I had my camera equipment with me then!
    @ Nick – thanks and they are neat to pick apart!

    9 September 2007 at 5:21 pm

  13. I’ve never seen Chimney Swifts so this is an incredible look at a very interesting bird. I like your description of their nesting behavior and how it departs from the traditional understanding of it. Great post, tom.

    9 September 2007 at 7:17 pm

  14. Very interesting post! I love the swifts too and vote with you on the group nesting. We have about four pairs that use an old chimney right here in our monster house. We can hear them twittering all during the early summer, to the enjoyment of all but our son, whose room contains the chimney in question

    10 September 2007 at 6:21 am

  15. @ Robin – thanks and a bird worth seeing for sure!
    @ threecollie – thanks and find that very interesting! I think with the decreasing of chimneys with people capping, etc.. that they have to resort to having more to a nest (but have nothing to prove that.)!! The problem is that because of their life style, it is hard to study them.

    10 September 2007 at 7:08 am

  16. Wow, thanks! My first view of a Chimney Swift. Perhaps they’ll stop in NC on their way???

    10 September 2007 at 9:01 am

  17. Great video!-They are a really unique bird.-I’ve only seen scattered ones flying overhead.-never saw the live funnel thing.

    10 September 2007 at 6:54 pm

  18. Neat video. I found the nest interesting.

    10 September 2007 at 7:37 pm

  19. Grace

    You know, the Ad Building would be a great place to set up some remote video equipment for a study. Who do we know that would love to do some wildlife videos??? 🙂

    11 September 2007 at 5:46 pm

  20. That was such a cool video and pictures, Tom. I like seeing chimney swifts, but have never seen them enter a chimney and certainly never seen one up close. Thanks for sharing.

    11 September 2007 at 9:26 pm

  21. @ Mary – I sure hope they do stop your way!
    @ Larry – thanks and it is amazing to watch for sure!
    @ Zen – thanks and they do have amazing nest!
    @ Grace – I would love to work that out! Maybe make it a webcam?? Wish I could make that happen!
    @ Ruth – thanks and only reason I was lucky enough to see one up close was taking it out of the chimney after being caught!

    11 September 2007 at 9:41 pm

  22. Those nests are pretty amazing – the power of spit prevails! Great shots throughout (as usual).

    12 September 2007 at 7:00 pm

  23. Mike

    I see your topic about Swifts is from Sept, 2007 .. Great pictures !!Wish I caught it sooner. Currently I am providing refresh pictures at Cornell Uni. on the Chiney Swift Tower project at my house
    along with live feed.
    As well as our website
    Currently the nest has 4 eggs and is about 10 days into incubation out of approx 19 total. Should be hatching soon..

    30 June 2008 at 12:21 pm

  24. Mike

    I forgot to mention… as per more than 1 nests at a location.. there is only 1 per chamber and it is not uncommon for there to be several “helpers” also feeding the young. This is as per and their nest program.

    30 June 2008 at 12:30 pm

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