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Chimney Swift

Chaetura pelagica ORDER: APODIFORMES FAMILY: APODIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Near Threatened

A bird best identified by silhouette, the smudge-gray Chimney Swift nimbly maneuvers over rooftops, fields, and rivers to catch insects. Its tiny body, curving wings, and stiff, shallow wingbeats give it a flight style as distinctive as its fluid, chattering call. This enigmatic little bird spends almost its entire life airborne. When it lands, it can’t perch—it clings to vertical walls inside chimneys or in hollow trees or caves. This species has suffered sharp declines as chimneys fall into disuse across the continent.

Be a Better Birder Tutorial 4
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Backyard Tips

Chimney Swifts may take up residence in your brick chimney if you leave the chimney cap off. It’s a good idea to keep the damper closed during summer and to schedule chimney cleanings either before or after the breeding season. If you don’t have a chimney, you can build a swift nesting tower with plans from the North American Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project.

Find This Bird

The “flying cigar” silhouette of the Chimney Swift is a common sight all summer in the skies over eastern cities and towns. Lakes and rivers are especially good places to look for swifts, where they often forage along with swallows, which have broader wings and more fluid wingbeats. Be sure to keep an ear out for their distinctive, high-pitched chattering calls—they often call on the wing while foraging. During migration, thousands of swifts roost together in chimneys, funneling into them at dusk in spectacular tornado-like flocks.