Called also : CHIMNEY SWALLOW ; AMERICAN SWIFT
Length5 to 5.45 inches. About an inch shorter than the English sparrow. Long wings make its length appear greater.
Male and FemaleDeep sooty gray; throat of a trifle lighter gray. Wings extend an inch and a half beyond the even tail, which has sharply pointed and very elastic quills, that serve as props. Feet are muscular, and have exceedingly sharp claws.
RangePeculiar to North America east of the Rockies, and from Labrador to Panama.
MigrationsApril. September or October. Common summer resident.
The chimney swift is, properly speaking, not a swallow at all, though chimney swallow is its more popular name. Rowing towards the roof of your house, as if it used first one wing, then the other, its flight, while swift and powerful, is stiff and mechanical, unlike the swallow’s, and its entire aspect suggests a bat. The nighthawk and whippoorwill are its relatives, and it resembles them not a little, especially in its nocturnal habits.
So much fault has been found. with the misleading names of many birds, it is pleasant to record the fact that the name of the chimney swift is everything it ought to be. No other birds can surpass and few can equal it in its powerful flight, sometimes covering a thousand miles in twenty-four hours, it is said, and never resting except in its roosting places (hollow trees or chimneys of dwellings), where it does not perch, but rather clings to the sides with its sharp claws, partly supported by its sharper tail. Audubon tells of a certain plane tree in Kentucky where he counted over nine thousand of these swifts clinging to the hollow trunk.
Their nest, which is a loosely woven twig lattice, made of twigs of trees, which the birds snap off with their beaks and carry in their beaks, is glued with the bird’s saliva or tree-gum into a solid structure, and firmly attached to the inside of chimneys, or hollow trees where there are no houses about. Two broods in a season usually emerge from the pure white, elongated eggs.
What a twittering there is in the chimney that the swifts appropriate after the winter fires have died out! Instead of the hospitable column of smoke curling from the top, a cloud of sooty birds wheels and floats above it. A sound as of distant thunder fills the chimney as a host of these birds, startled, perhaps, by some indoor noise, whirl their way upward. Woe betide the happy colony if a sudden cold snap in early summer necessitates the starting of a fire on the hearth by the unsuspecting householder! The glue being melted by the fire, ” down comes the cradle, babies and all ” into the glowing embers. A prolonged, heavy rain also causes their nests to loosen their hold and fall with the soot to the bottom.
Thrifty New England housekeepers claim that bedbugs, commonly found on bats, infest the bodies of swifts also, which is one reason why wire netting is stretched across the chimney tops before the birds arrive from the South.