Chimney Swift


Common Name:Chimney Swift





SpeciesChaetura pelagica






The Chimney Swift’s physical appearance and lifestyle very much reflect the English translation of the family it belongs to Apodiformes meaning  “form without feet.” Chimney Swifts gained their common name as a result of their propensity to build nests within chimneys and other convenient, man-made cavities. A small, sooty-colored bird – usually no more than about 13cm in length and between roughly 17 and 30 grams in weight – the Chimney Swift’s long, stiff wings and short, stumpy tail feathers combine to give it a very distinctive “cigar on wings” profile when in flight. Spending much of its time on the wing, the Chimney Swift’s legs are quite small in proportion and function in little more than perching, hence the “footless” classification. There is no discernable differences in appearance between males and females, both displaying the typical coloration of a sooty olive or brown back with paler underside and they are both about the same size.


While the Chimney Swift’s rather broad breeding range – extending from Texas eastward across the United Sates to the coast and northward to the lower reaches of Saskatchewan and Ontario, Canada – encompasses an equally broad variety of habitats, these birds often concentrate in urban areas where large numbers of chimneys provide ample space for nest sites and communal roosts. This is not to imply that Chimney Swifts no longer inhabit hollow trees, caves, and other natural cavities, however, as is still quite prevalent in less well-populated areas. As their adaptations would suggest, Chimney Swifts are aerial insectivores, pursuing their quarry with agile and elegantly-fast flight and either taking it whole or capturing it in their beak depending on size.




One of the most aerial of all landbird species, Chimney Swifts are in near constant flight when not at roost. Flying is fast and erratic, with many sharp banks and turns. Chimney swifts are weakly territorial and often roost en mass, however they are not communal nesters. When threatened, a unique “booming” wing flap display is employed to startle would-be intruders. Considered monogamous, a breeding pair of Chimney Swifts will typically lay one clutch of eggs per year in a saucer-shaped nest constructed of twigs and specially formulated, cement-like saliva adhered to the inner wall of a cavity. Non-breeding “helpers” often aid a breeding pair in feeding and watching over young, and nests are generally located separate form the large communal roosts. Pair bond formation involves elaborate aerial courtship displays with a special V-ing flight trait playing a major role in pair bond maintenance as well.




Chimney Swifts are mostly seen in urban and suburban environments being seen commonly during the summer months in the city of Buffalo and surrounding suburban areas.


Birds of Western New York is brought to you by the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY.