Beak of the Week – Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

Family: Apodidae

Chimney Swifts are small, grey-brown birds found in Houston from March to October. They are best identified by their silhouette- slender bodies, round heads, long, narrow, curved wings and short, tapered tails. Their wide bills are so short that they are often hard to see. They have a distinctive flight style, with stiff and shallow wingbeats, and chittering call.

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Chimney Swift populations declined by 2.5% per year between 1966 and 2015, with a cumulative decline of 72%. This is in part due to the decrease in suitable nesting habitat, with traditional brick chimneys deteriorating and modern chimneys not providing suitable nesting sites. Chimney Swifts breed in urban and suburban habitats across the eastern United States and Canada. They spend their winters in Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Brazil. While they do use natural nest sites, such as hollow trees and caves, they primarily nest in chimneys and other man-made, low light areas with vertical surfaces, like air vents or wells. Once they have chosen a nest site, the pair constructs a half-saucer shaped nest made up of twigs, stuck together and to the wall with a glue-like saliva produced from a gland beneath the Swifts tongue.

Chimney Swifts spend almost all their time in flight, only stopping to roost overnight or nest. They even bathe in flight, gliding down to the water’s surface and smacking against it, then bouncing back up and shaking the water from their feathers as they do so. Unlike most birds, Chimney Swifts cannot perch. Instead, their long claws are suited to clinging to vertical walls.

Look out for these energetic birds in the late afternoon and evening, foraging in small flocks high above urban and suburban areas as well as rivers, lakes, forests, and fields.

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty
 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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