What is a Chimney Swift tower?
A “Chimney Swift tower” is typically a human-made, stand-alone chimney-like structure built and intended exclusively as a roosting and nesting site for Chimney Swifts. A tower is different than a “faux chimney,” which is a fake chimney that is enclosed by or attached to a building, but has never been a functional chimney (used as part of the building’s heating system).
In 1915, a self-taught ornithologist named Althea Sherman built the first Chimney Swift tower to learn more about these amazing birds. Observing the swifts that used her tower, she recorded over 400 pages of observations about swifts. Over the years, after Ms. Sherman’s passing, the tower fell into disrepair, but there is a happy ending to this story. Google the ‘Althea Sherman Project’ to find out. The Sherman tower was an inspiration to Paul and Georgene Kyle, who started building towers on their property in Texas to provide additional housing for the birds.
Have towers been built in Wisconsin?
Several towers have been constructed in Wisconsin, but the occupancy by swifts has been disappointingly low. Towers, usually constructed of wood, have worked very well in states further south, however. It is theorized that towers erected in northern states and provinces, using designs from towers built further south, may not be warm enough inside for swifts on cool spring and fall nights.
At the current time, the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group does not recommend that new Chimney Swift towers be built in Wisconsin.
Studies are being conducted to try to determine what design features (e.g. insulation), placement, and other methods work to attract swifts to towers in Wisconsin. Using designs intended for towers constructed in southern states are unlikely to contribute to the conservation of swifts in our state.
If you have built a Chimney Swift tower that is hosting swifts, or if you are aware of a successful tower, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include details about the design, construction and use, and what you might have done to attract swifts.
What are the current best practices for building towers in Wisconsin?
If you do want to build a new Chimney Swift tower in Wisconsin, or retrofit an existing tower to improve the chances of it attracting swifts, please keep these factors in mind:
Location – Place the tower as close to a known nesting or roosting chimney as possible. It should be located in an open area, with clear access for the swifts (no overhanging branches, etc).
Insulation – Insulate the inside of the entire chimney, and/or provide a heat source such as an electric, thermostatically-controlled heater inside the tower. Internal temperature of the tower on cool nights appears to be a critical factor in our northern climate.
Play-back – If possible, play recordings of swifts at the newly-erected tower, especially in the spring as swifts arrive, and perhaps during the height of late summer/fall migration.