- Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 February 2013 19:59
- Written by Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
As their name suggests, Chimney Swifts make their homes in chimneys in urban neighbourhoods throughout Ontario. Chimney Swifts are experiencing steep declines across their North American range. Bird Studies Canada and its partners are looking for volunteers to help search for nesting locations. The Chimney Swift is a small, sooty‐coloured bird that makes its home in open brick chimneys in small to large towns and cities. It can be observed in most urban areas, flying overhead in quick, jerky movements, making a high‐pitched chittering call. Unfortunately, this bird is federally and provincially designated as a Threatened species. Chimney Swift numbers have declined by over 90% over the last four decades. The species was recently highlighted in the State of Canada’s Birds 2012 report as requiring urgent attention.
Since European settlement, Chimney Swifts have preferred to live near people, nesting in chimneys rather than the cavernous trees they once inhabited. You are most likely to observe swifts using larger chimneys attached to buildings such as hospitals, churches, and schools. Some chimneys are roosting sites where swifts gather in large numbers. By late summer, you will see the number of birds at roosts increasing, with some sites offering spectacular displays of hundreds, or even thousands, of birds entering a chimney at nightfall. Then, suddenly, Chimney Swifts depart, migrating south for the winter.
The Chimney Swift is an aerial acrobat that belongs to a special group of birds called ‘aerial insectivores.’ These birds forage on insects, such as mosquitoes, while in flight. The State of Canada’s Birds report notes that aerial insectivores are declining more steeply than any other group of birds. These declines are likely caused by a combination of factors, in Canada and in their wintering areas, including reductions in insect numbers, habitat loss, pesticide use, and climate change.
The Ottawa Stewardship Council, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority and Bird Studies Canada have partnered to learn more about the declines and their causes in the City of Ottawa. We are looking for help pinpointing Chimney Swift nesting locations in the City’s urban core, and its rural villages and hamlets, as part of the Ottawa Chimney Swift Nesting/Roosting Site Survey and Property Owner Outreach Project which is in its third survey season. It has been supported by dozens of volunteers to date, contributing several hundred hours to the cause.
Over the next few weeks, keep an eye on the sky, and on chimneys. If you happen to see or hear swifts, especially near sundown, look for an open chimney (no cap) in the vicinity, and note the address. If you have a few minutes, wait and see whether any birds enter the chimney.
“Whether you see a single Chimney Swift or several of them entering a chimney, it is important that we know about that chimney,” states Kristyn Richardson, Stewardship Biologist for Bird tudies Canada. “Ontario supports more than 50% of the Canadian population of Chimney Swifts, so there are thousands of sites that have yet to be discovered.”
For more information about swifts, how to look for them, and how to help them, visit our website at www.birdscanada.org/research/speciesatrisk/chsw or our Ontario SwiftWatch Facebook page (www.fb.com/ontarioswift).
Ontario SwiftWatch is a volunteer-based program in which community groups, volunteers, and professional biologists work together to search for and describe Chimney Swift locations. Bird Studies Canada (www.birdscanada.org) administers regional, national, and international research and monitoring programs that advance the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of wild birds and their habitats. We are Canada’s national body for bird conservation and science, and we are a non governmental charitable organization.