Kane County Audubon: Help Us Find Homes For Declining Chimney Swift Population

Kane County Audubon: Help Us Find Homes For Declining Chimney Swift Population

The Kane County Audubon Society has launched a campaign to help protect the Chimney Swift, an amazing bird species whose population is declining due in part to the blocking of its man-made habitat.

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These are the type of towers that are in Kane County. This design is easy to construct, less costly than other towers and effective to house the Swifts.

The Chimney Swift is a sooty-colored bird, weighing less than an ounce, with a 12-inch wingspan and a 5-inch, cigar-shaped body that is described as a boon to mosquito control and a joy to watch, putting on aerial displays especially around dusk when the birds gather together to enter their evening roosting spot.

The Chimney Swift is a “bird of concern” in the United States and a threatened species in Canada, where more than 90 percent of its population has declined. Kane County Audubon members say there are two major factors for the decrease: loss of habitat (suitable chimneys for them to nest and roost in) and loss of food source (insects) due to pesticide use and pollution of waterways.

Some fun facts about the Chimney Swift, courtesy of Marion Miller, who along with her husband, Rich, is coordinating the local Audubon Society campaign to create suitable habitat for the birds:

“The Chimney Swift cannot perch on a branch or rest on the ground like other birds; it must cling vertically to rough surfaces,” she said via email. “Once it leaves the chimney at sunrise, it continually flies until sunset, when it returns to the chimney to sleep. It eats, drinks and bathes while flying!

“It is one of our safest, non-chemical means to decrease mosquito, biting flies and other flying pests, since each bird eats up to one-third of its body weight of these insects every day.”

Chimney Swift Tower

Chimney Swift Tower in Cantigny Park in Wheaton.

Kane County Audubon has built four Chimney Swift towers in Kane County in an effort to help the birds reverse their trend of population decline. There are at least five towers in Kane County in total, and more in nearby counties.

Kane County tower locations include:

  • Creek Bend Nature Center at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve in St. Charles
  • Brunner Family Forest Preserve in Dundee Township
  • Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, on St. Charles Park District property
  • Jelke Creek Bird Sanctuary in Dundee Township
  • Snuffy’s Prairie in Dundee Township, built by Dundee Township

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.38.54 AMAs part of its community-education initiative, Kane County Audubon is hosting a “Chat about Chimney Swifts,” scheduled for noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, July 21, at the Limestone Coffee & Tea, at 8 W. Wilson St. in Batavia.

The event is free, and organizers will be giving away one copy of Paul and Georgean Kyle’s book: “Chimney Swifts: America’s Mysterious Birds above the Fireplace” to participants. You’ll also have a chance to play the “Chimney Swift’s Return” game and learn more about Chimney Swifts and the KCA Chimney Swift Tower project.

“The reason I chose Limestone Coffee & Tea is because its chimney has both nesting and roosting Chimney Swifts and is one of my favorite chimneys to watch around sunset when these amazing beneficial birds go to roost for the night,” Miller said.

To learn more about Chimney Swifts, the KCA project and efforts to help the Chimney Swifts, visit the Chimney Swifts Over the Fox Valley Facebook page.

About the Chimney Swift Tower Project

  • This project was a Kane County community effort organized in 2014 by Kane County Audubon members.
  • The Veterans Conservation Corp of Chicagoland built four 12-foot wood Chimney Swift towers.
  • The Forest Preserve District of Kane County, Dundee Township and St. Charles Park District permitted tower placements on their property.
  • Kane County Audubon funded, monitors and maintains the towers.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.23.59 AMMaking New Homes for Chimney Swifts

  • Many Swifts will use a structure to roost, but in the summer, only one pair per structure will build a nest and raise young there.
  • A newly-hatched Chimney Swift is very vulnerable. No larger than a jelly bean, it weighs about the same as three paper clips!
  • They migrate to South America, leaving our area by early October and returning in early April.

Why Are Chimney Swift Populations Decreasing?

Although Chimney Swifts are protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, their population has been declining since the mid-1980s.
  • Loss of habitat (a place to sleep and nest) is a major reason for the declining population.
  • Originally Swifts lived in hollow trees in our forest. As forests got cleared and towns built, Swifts easily adapted to the new chimneys that had rough-textured interiors.

Suitable chimneys are disappearing because:

  • Chimneys are capped to keep wildlife out.
  • New chimney construction has smooth metal linings. Swifts cannot cling to metal.
  • Many unused large masonry chimneys, with rough-textured interiors, are aging and being demolished.
  • Since only one pair nest in a structure, this loss of habitat will continue to lower the population.

3 Ways You Can Help the Chimney Swifts

1. If you have a masonry or clay tile chimney:

  • Keep the top open and the damper shut March through October.
  • Enjoy or endure the two weeks of exuberant begging calls that are heard before the young can leave the chimney for food.
  • Have chimney cleaned yearly of creosote build-up in March before the Swifts return.
  • Use a Chimney Swift friendly cleaning service. Avoid companies that advertise bird removal.

2. Avoid using pesticides that kill flying insects which the birds depend on for food.

3. Support the conservation efforts of a local Audubon group. If a roosting/nesting chimney is being demolished, support efforts to replace it with a tower.

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