By Nathan Swick, Wake Audubon Board member
Birdwatchers in North Carolina’s Piedmont should be on the lookout for the eminent return of Chimney Swifts from their wintering range in Amazon South America. Historically, Swifts nested in hollow snags across eastern North America but quickly took to residential chimneys as a replacement, from whence their common name is derived. The birds are actually quite nice to have around for homeowners as they feed on thousands of small and annoying flying insects per day.
Unfortunately, chimney caps and screens have become more prevalent as some homeowners either don’t want swifts nesting on their property or don’t understand that caps can have an effect on locally nesting swifts. But by taking a few steps you can easily encourage swifts to come to your own chimney where you can enjoy them all summer. And besides, you weren’t using your chimney in the heat anyway, were you?
Wake Audubon member Erla Beegle has put together some tips borne of experience; she fledged 3 chicks in her chimney last summer!
Chimney Swift Checklist:
– Do you have a suitable chimney? (brick inside – not slippery metal or porcelain, and a “cap” that can be easily removed. Any chimney eight feet or taller is high enough. )
– BEFORE YOU REMOVE THE CAP: Call a chimney cleaning company before late April and get the chimney cleaned out! (Dirty chimneys can lead to nest failure, as the nest can break off with a big flake of creosote when the babies get big)
– Get the metal lid (“cap”) off your chimney before late April (save the cap for the winter). The cleaning company might remove it for you for a small fee, or ask a contractor, if you do not want to climb onto the roof.
– Keep the flue CLOSED during the nesting season (just in case a baby swift has to climb back up.)
– Do NOT use the chimney during the nesting season (gas fireplace owners: put a sign on the switch so guests do not make that mistake! I put a sign on the flue handle for my wood-burning fireplace.)
– If you are lucky enough to have a pair of swifts in your chimney: Congratulations! You will hear peeping and chattering for several weeks (any time in May and June). This wonderful sound can be quite loud, and goes on from dawn to dusk. Turn up the radio and you won’t notice it. They are quiet once the sun goes down.
– There’s only one pair of swifts per chimney, and it will be their home all spring and summer. The parents and “kids” may roost in your chimney throughout the late summer, so keep the cap off until late fall.
– To keep your insurance company happy: re-attach the chimney cap in late fall before you start using the fireplace again. The cap prevents sparks from landing on the roof.
Thank you for opening your hearth to swifts!