During fall in Georgia, the evening sky surrounding stack stone chimneys begins to fill with small swiftly moving birds known as chimney swifts. Also known as flying cigars, for their body shape, they are one of the state’s neotropical migratory bird species. 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 these fascinating little birds. Large congregations of chimney swifts can roost in these structures, particularly large industrial brick chimneys, during fall migration. In spring they return from wintering sites in the Amazon Basin to nest and raise their families, most often in household chimneys. While flickering through the sky, swifts serve as excellent insect consumers, eating many different types of flying insects such as flies, true bugs, and mayflies, and small spiders carried on the wind by silk threads.
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. To help these fascinating birds, you can share your chimney with them.
There are specific qualities a chimney has to have 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. Homebuilders are encouraged to build chimneys suitable for chimney swifts. Homeowners and managers of older buildings with suitable chimneys are encouraged to allow the birds to continue using these structures for nesting and roosting.
Preserving abandoned buildings with chimneys, building chimney swift friendly chimneys in new homes, properly maintaining stone and brick fireplaces, and capping fireplace chimneys with metal shafts are important steps to help conserve chimney swift populations in Georgia.
Steps to follow to ensure proper maintenance of fireplace chimney structures for chimney swifts:
- First, the chimney should be professionally cleaned between November and early March, after fall migration and before the return of the chimney swifts from their Amazon Basin wintering grounds in spring. Wood fires produce flammable creosote residue on the inside of the chimney walls, which can cause chimney fires that could damage or destroy your home. Cleaning the fireplace removes the creosote. 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. To further reduce noise, you can wedge a piece of flexible foam polyurethane bedding material in the chimney beneath the damper.
Please report large aggregations of chimney swifts (hundreds to thousands of birds) to:
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division, Wildlife Conservation Section
116 Rum Creek Drive
Forsyth, GA 31029
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 Wildlife Conservation Section.