Known as the ‘flying cigar,’ Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) are small birds with long, narrow wings that are curved. They are a dark gray/brown but because you will usually see them flying above, they might appear to be black.
Swifts spend most of their time in flight. They are aerial acrobats and actually bathe in flight! They will swoop down to the water touching on the surface and fly away, shaking the water off in flight. When they land, they cannot perch like other birds so must use their claws to hang on to something vertical – in this case, the wall of the cistern.
They used to nest in hollow trees and caves but with the settlement of North America came homes with chimneys, a perfect place to perch. Today, many homeowners cover their flues to prevent the birds and other wildlife from moving in. This is actually a real problem for the Swifts.
During breeding season, it is most likely that only a single pair of Chimney Swifts nest in the cistern. They build their nest of twigs on the vertical surface using their saliva as glue. Later in the year, after nesting, the numbers of Chimney Swifts using the cistern increases by hundreds if not thousands! The mass of Swifts that move in are actually roosting in the cistern during their migration. They are gregarious by nature and, after having raised their young, are ‘staging’ here — a safe place where they can all safely stop to rest and feed before continuing their migration. They are in their migration between southern Canada and the Amazon basin in Peru. While here in Jonestown, they spend their days foraging, feeding on insects – one bird will eat thousands of insects in a day.
How you can help Chimney Swifts:
- Build a chimney swift tower http://www.chimneyswifts.org/page6.html
- Try to avoid using pesticides when possible
- Plant native trees and shrubs
- Recycle, reduce and reuse when possible
- Change to energy efficient light bulbs and appliances
- Reduce gasoline consumption — walk, carpool or bike whenever you can
- Program your thermostat
- Learn more about Chimney Swifts here! (link to http://www.chimneyswifts.org/)