During the fall season, the evening sky surrounding stack stone chimneys across the state will begin to fill with swiftly moving birds. These little birds, also known as flying cigars, are one of Georgia's fall migratory birds the chimney swift. Depending almost totally on man-made structures like fireplace chimneys, airshafts or abandoned buildings, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (DNR/WRD) encourages homeowners to provide and maintain proper roosting and nesting habitats for the state's migratory chimney swift population. These large congregations of chimney swifts roost in the structures during fall migration and return to chimneys to nest and raise their families in the spring. While flickering through the sky, these numerous birds serve as excellent insect consumers!
Deforestation and loss of large hollow trees as natural roosting and nesting sites has caused the chimney swift to adapt to the use of man-made structures for its survival. Many people become concerned when birds are heard in their chimney. To help these fascinating birds find a home during migration, you can turn that concern into excitement and share your chimney with the chimney swift!
There are specific qualifications for a chimney to be structurally suitable for swifts. The inside of the chimney must be made of stone, firebrick or masonry flue tiles with mortared joints. These materials allow the birds to cling to the walls of the chimney, unlike the metal materials used in more modern homes. Chimneys that are composed of metal shafts should be capped to decrease the chance of an animal entering the metal flue and falling to the bottom of the fireplace.
Chimney swifts are uniquely equipped for roosting in these man-made cavities by clinging on to vertical surfaces with their small but strong feet and four sharp gripping claws. By comparison, most songbirds perch or stand upright. New homebuilders are recommended to build chimney structures suitable for chimney swift roosting. Older building homeowners and managers are encouraged to allow the birds to continue using the needed structures for nesting and roosting habitats.
Preserving abandoned buildings, building chimney swift friendly chimneys in new homes, properly maintaining stone and brick fireplaces and capping fireplace chimneys with metal shafts are crucial for the existence of the chimney swift populations in Georgia. Suitable nesting sites can be harder for the swifts to find due to the increased number of metal chimneys being built and old chimneys being capped.
Several steps should be followed to ensure proper maintenance of fireplace chimney structures for chimney swifts:
- First, the fireplace chimney should be professionally cleaned in early March, before the return of the chimney swifts from their Amazon Basin wintering grounds. Wood fires produce flammable creosote residue on the inside of the chimney walls, causing a hazardous fuel for igniting chimney fires within the structure which could damage both to the swift nests and your home. Cleaning the fireplace removes the flammable creosote residue that occurs from wood fires. Swift nests are not considered to be a fire hazard to your chimney or to your home.
- Next, inspect and close the damper during the nesting season of March through August. This prevents the birds from flying into your home, decreases the chance of nestlings falling into the bottom of the fireplace, and lessens the transfer of sound making the chimney quieter for the birds and the homeowner.
For more information on chimney swifts and how you can provide suitable roosting and nesting habitat or for design plans on how to construct new nesting habitats for swifts in your home, view the Driftwood Wildlife Association's fact sheet "Chimney Swifts - Nest Site Research Project."
To report large aggregations (hundreds to thousands of birds) of chimney swifts seen in your area, please contact the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Nongame Conservation Section, 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, GA 31029 or (478) 994-1438.
Georgians can support conservation of chimney swifts and other nongame wildlife by purchasing a bald eagle wildlife license plate for their vehicle or by donating to the Give Wildlife a Chance State Income Tax Checkoff. Sales of the bald eagle/American flag license plate are the primary source of funding for the WRD Nongame Conservation Section.
Citizen Science "Swift Night Out"
Since chimney swifts depend almost entirely on man-made structures like fireplace chimneys, airshafts or abandoned buildings, we encourage homeowners to provide and maintain proper roosting and nesting habitats for the state's migratory chimney swift population.