Backyard Nature Wednesday: Chimney Swifts

It's no April Fool's joke! The Chimney Swifts are back!

I first heard them in the skies over my yard during the just past weekend, but I was never able to look up in time to see them. These little cigar-shaped birds fling themselves like torpedoes across the sky. They fly like the wind and one has to be quick and look to the right spot in order to see them before they have moved on. Finally, on Monday, I was able to spot them and follow them as they barreled their way in their chittering flight through my air space. 

Their arrival was not a surprise. I expect to see them every spring around the same time that the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arrive, so I had been on the lookout for them for a couple of weeks. They announce their presence with their chittering calls as they fly, and they are usually heard before they are seen, but that first sighting of the birds always makes me smile because they are one of my very favorite summer visitors.

And the swifts are here for all of our long summer. From their early spring arrival, they stay right through September and sometimes even into October. During all those months, they are on the job, sweeping flying insects from the sky.

Chimney Swifts come by their name honestly. They like to nest in chimneys, but these days most people in this area cap their chimneys to keep the birds out. Some bird lovers put up faux chimneys, towers, in their backyards to accommodate the swifts and the birds seem to take to them readily enough. We, however, have never had our chimney capped and most summers we do have a pair of Chimney Swifts nesting there. They are good tenants, though sometimes a little noisy as the kids start growing and demanding to be fed, but it's a sound that I actually enjoy.

Swifts live their lives on the wing and they have weak legs and feet that are not meant for perching like most songbirds, but they can easily cling to the vertical rough surface of a brick chimney or similar structure.
They "glue" their nest to the vertical surface, using their saliva, and raise their family there.

Chimney Swifts are common and widespread throughout all the eastern United States. They are so common, in fact, that they may go unremarked by most people. But not by me. I look forward to their presence as much as the blooming of the redbud tree to tell me that spring has truly come. 

(For more information about these interesting little birds, visit


  1. How lovely to see your photos and read your info. I remember chimney swifts from living in Oslo but I don’t think I have seen any here in London, although there is not any reason why they couldn’t be here too. Perhaps it is a matter of who’s there first….in all the 13 years I have been in this house I have had wood pigeons (ring doves) on my roof, all year round living inside a chimney lying on its side. There are always two couples, with chicks of various sizes – up to 7-8 in total. They make a lot of noise and although much smaller than their larger city pigeons, they must be scary for smaller birds. I have thought of getting someone to come and get rid of the disused chimney so the pigeons would move somewhere else, but they eat slugs in my garden so I am kind of happy to have them here :-)

    1. Birds of many species do such a service for us gardeners, don't they? Without them, I'm afraid my garden would be completely overrun by hungry pests. They, along with the frogs, toads, anoles, etc., are my gardening partners.


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