Got Swifts? Survey Seeks To Identify Chimneys Providing Bird Habitat

Survey update, February, 2021

The Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conducted a survey in 2020 to find information about chimneys in Wisconsin that are being used by chimney swifts and that are also in need of repair.

There was an overwhelming response to the survey, and we are pleased to learn that so many people are interested in swifts and preserving their habitat. We have evaluated the responses, and have chosen two chimneys that are in greatest need of repair for a pilot project. We plan to work with an agency that can help with repair costs.

After this pilot project is completed, we will reach out to other agencies and groups that may wish to help with repairs on additional chimneys. Look for future updates on our progress.

Thank you for your interest in keeping chimney swifts common in Wisconsin!

Pilot Project Aims To Help Owners Pay For Repairs To Preserve Habitat

MADISON, Wis. – Brick chimneys may be a key component to conserving acrobatic, fast-flying chimney swifts, so Wisconsin residential and commercial property owners are being asked to report if their chimneys are currently being used by swifts through an online survey.

Conducted by the Wisconsin Chimney Swift Working Group, answers to the online survey will help shape a pilot project aimed at helping owners pay for chimney repairs, so they are more likely to keep the structures. Biologists with the Department of Natural Resources’ Natural Heritage Conservation Program are part of the working group.

“Sadly, chimney swifts, like many other aerial insectivores including whip-poor-wills, nighthawks and swallows, are declining,” said Rich Staffen, a DNR Natural Heritage Conservation biologist and working group member.

“There are no definitive reasons identified yet for why this is, but the ongoing decline in insect populations is a major concern, and bird experts also know the removal of old chimneys or capping of them, is removing suitable nesting and roosting locations for these birds.”

Chimney swifts nest in eastern North America (east of the Rockies) in the summer and migrate to South America in the fall. Historically, the birds congregated in large standing hollow trees in old-growth forests before they began their migration. However, as old-growth forests disappeared from North America, chimney swifts discovered that brick chimneys served as an easy and abundant replacement.

Chimney swifts have slender bodies, very long, narrow, curved wings and short, tapered tails. They fly rapidly, with nearly constant wing beats, often twisting from side to side and banking erratically. They often give a distinctive, high-pitched twittering call while flying.

The birds can cling to the rough, vertical surface like the inside of a hollow tree. Hundreds of native chimney swifts may congregate in communal roosts, gathering strength before flying to South America and creating a spectacle that looks like “smoke” pouring into brick chimneys in the fall.

“Chimneys are crucial habitat for swifts that depend upon man-made structures for nesting and roosting before fall migration,” said Sandy Schwab, chair of the working group, adding that a member of the Chimney Swift Working Group may contact respondents in the future to discuss their answers. “We’d like to know if you have a chimney that is being used by swifts for nesting or resting, and if you do, if it’s in need of repairs. This information will help us develop our project to help preserve habitat for chimney swifts.”

The survey will help working group members understand which chimneys are being used for roosting and nesting by these birds and if those chimneys require any repair to keep them as a viable option for the birds into the future.

From the Wisconsin DNR website.