The Chimney Swifts have returned to Lakeside Nature Center.

The Chimney Swift tower at Lakeside Nature Center is occupied for the seventh year in a row.  A pair of birds has built a nest and is preparing to raise babies.  The Swift-cam allows us to observe these fascinating birds. 

Several years ago,  Lakeside Nature Center erected a 20-foot high Chimney Swift tower.  Almost as soon as the last nail was hammered in, a pair of Chimney Swifts swooped in, took possession, built a nest and raised babies.  In the fall, our visitors had a chance to observe swifts congregating during September, before migrating across the equator to the rainforests of Peru

Chimney Swifts are small, dark brown birds that live their lives almost entirely on the wing.  With their short, stubby bodies and long pointed wings they are often called ‘flying cigars.’  Swifts do everything in flight, including all their feeding, courting, drinking, bathing and collecting twigs for nests.  In fact, they stop flying only to roost for the night and to nest.  They are unable to perch or stand upright, like songbirds.  Their feet are tipped with four sharp claws, which act as grappling hooks to hold them firmly to their roost.  Their tail feathers are very stiff and extend to provide additional support for their ‘vertical lifestyle.’  When they roost and nest, they do so in chimneys, large hollow trees, or manmade swift towers, like the Center’s new Chimney Swift tower.

Swifts often nest in our chimneys, where they cause no damage, contrary to common belief.  The nest and birds are NOT a fire or a health hazard.  Instead, the swifts capture prodigious amounts of insects, including mosquitoes, to feed their young:  a benefit to their human neighbors.

Adult Swifts make a   "whooshing" sound with their wings as they come and go from the chimney to build their nest, and "chipper" as they socialize with one another in the roost during nest-building and at night. The young “yipper” loudly with a high-pitched sound as they beg for food when they hear the whoosh of the parents return.  The young also make a mechanical, hissing alarm call when disturbed or frightened. Once the sound of the young becomes noticeable, they are usually only 10 days or so from fledging.  About 4 weeks after hatching, Chimney Swift fledglings leave the safety of the chimney for their first flight.

Both male and female birds build the nest and  take turns incubating the eggs.  The hatchlings are completely blind and naked at birth. Sharp claws enable them to cling to textured surfaces. By fifteen to seventeen days of age, their eyes open and most of their feathers are unfurled, except for the feathers around the face and head, giving the nestlings a "frosty-faced" appearance.  Chimney Swifts are fed by both parents until they fledge. 

Chimney Swift numbers are declining.  Scientists believe the closing of household chimneys in North America, where the swifts nest and raise their young, causes this decline.  Towers, such as ours, promise to reverse this decline by adding another “chimney”. 

You can help swifts by making it possible for them to nest in your chimney.

  • If you have a masonry or clay flue-tile chimney, keep the top open and the damper closed from March through October.

  • Metal chimneys should be permanently capped to prevent birds from being trapped.

  • Have your chimney cleaned in early March before the Chimney Swifts return from their winter home in South America.

  • If a baby Swift should fall through the damper, do NOT put it outside. It will slowly starve to death. The parents can only care for the young in the chimney. If the baby's eyes are open, and it's fully feathered, uninjured and can climb, put it back above the damper and it will climb back up to the nest. Close the damper.

If you have more questions about Chimney Swifts, don’t hesitate to give the Nature Center a call.  You can pick up a brochure with plans for a Chimney Swift tower and build your own.

Check out the swift cam inside the Nature Center during operating hours. 

Be sure to stop by to see the swifts as they circle the tower in the evenings.