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Chimney Swifts

Bayou-Diversity (20 May 2018) If there was an occasion to choose the most martial of all bird species, I would not pick the majestic eagle with it fierce countenance or the falcon renowned for its hunting prowess. Instead, my vote would go to the five-inch chimney swift. Do not be misled by their high-pitched twittering calls sounding like the staccato noises emanating from a roomful of adolescent girls. These birds can fly! Though sooty-gray in color, they are the Blue Angels of the bird world. Wingtip to wingtip in perfect formation, they zip through the Louisiana summer sky twisting and turning with stiff, rapid wingbeats and graceful glides. They never perch on wires to rest like swallows because their tiny feet can only cling to vertical surfaces. Only hummingbirds, close relatives who function as avian helicopters, rival the extent of their aerial maneuvers.

Chimney swifts nest throughout the eastern half of the United States and migrate in autumn to spend the winters in the northwestern quarter of South America. Originally, they nested in large hollow trees, but because such habitat is now uncommon, most nesting today occurs in open chimneys. The twig nests are glued to the vertical walls with their sticky saliva. Usually there will be only one active nest per chimney. Populations of chimney swifts are in general decline because of loss of natural habitat and fewer open chimneys.

Chimney swifts are born aces. Two parent birds and their offspring can down thousands of flying insects every day. Their targets are mosquitoes, gnats and termites. So if you hear a noise in your chimney that sounds like far-away thunder or perhaps muffled cannon fire, consider yourself fortunate. It is only the wingbeats of your private air force on patrol.


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