Chimney Swift

In some ways, the silhouette of a Chimney Swift is more familiar than a clear vision of the bird species. Their nimble movements are seen over rivers, fields, and rooftops as they go about catching insects. This species with a smudged gray color pattern is known for its fluid flying style characterized by shallow and stiff wingbeats. The small body can’t seem to bear the weight of the wings, which curves while on a flight. 

A big part of their enigma can be attributed to how they spend most of their life in the air. They aren’t capable of perching like other bird species. Instead, they will go inside chimneys to support themselves on the walls vertically. Or they will find hollows in trees or caves and cling there. As a result, the species has seen a swift fall as more and more households have foregone chimneys. 

Today, we’ll learn about: 

  • Chimney Swift color patterns, songs, and size
  • Chimney Swift behavior, habitat, and diet
  • Chimney Swift lifecycle, nesting, and migration range


Chimney Swifts Color Pattern

The basic color of the plumage of Chimney Swifts is a deep grayish-brown color. At the throat, the color slightly loosens its intensity. Their bill and chest are also deep-brown. On their wings, you might notice pale streaks of white. If you look at them from the ground while they are flying, they appear full black against the sky backdrop. 

Description And Identification

If you are a U.S. citizen, you would most definitely come across Chimney Swifts at least once. They are a regular flier in the sky. In fact, their silhouette has the famous nickname of flying cigars. 

Against the well-lit, blue sky, the bird species appear to have dark color patterns and almost seem black. You actually can’t see most of their body at all. It seems as if a giant needle-shaped being is flying across the sky. As a birder, you might not have to exert any effort at all in seeing them in person. 

At the same time, it is impossible to take a good look at them. The Chimney Swift have unusually short legs. They aren’t capable of perching with their feet like other bird species. So, they spend most of their time in the sky. As such, it is impossible to catch a glimpse of them while they are resting. The only time they do rest is when they are nesting in hollow trees and chimneys. Sometimes, they might come to rest in caves after dusk. You might have a better chance of seeing them if you poke around your house’s chimney. 

If you do see them, though, the Chimney Swift birds are too easy to identify. Their elongated body coupled with a round head, a short neck, and a small tail creates a distinctive shape specifically found only in them. The color of their plumage is a common but prominent grayish brown shade. In the neck area, the shade lightens a little. 

If nothing else helps, you might be able to identify them from their sound. The chipping, high-pitched calls of Chimney Swifts are probably familiar to you by now. When they are foraging in flocks, they give off these calls at a frequent speed. So much so that they sound like insects themselves. 

When they are resting, though, the calls come at half a second intervals. This allows you enough time to find them by sound. 

You might also hear a loud, rattling sound from their wings. This is a rare occurrence, but you should memorize this sound. They make this when predators approach their nests. They will clap their wings together to warn the intruders away. 

For now, Chimney Swifts are a common sight all over the U.S. If you visit places with water bodies, you might see more of them. There are hollow, long trees in those areas that these birds find to be useful. 

Chimney Swift Song 

The songs of Chimney Swifts lasts for about 3 seconds. They let out these high-pitched notes, chipped and twittering ones in a row. When they are flying, the chips they let out are so rapid that it sounds like that of an insect. You might not be capable of distinguishing the series of buzzing, twittering sounds that they produce easily. If they are not particularly busy, the chippy notes can even come at half a second intervals. 

If intruders try to approach their nests, Chimney Swifts take on an aggressive stance. They fly backward and then make this loud noise by snapping their wings together to scare off the potential threat. 

Chimney Swift Size

Chimney Swifts are a slender-bodied, small species with curved wings. They are long and narrow, adding a distinct shape to their silhouette. The bill is broad but so small that you might not even be able to find it on their face even after looking for some time. The head itself happens to be round, followed by a short neck. The tail is tapered as it is short. 

A close relative in size theirs would be Cliff Swallow. So to say, they are somewhere between a Robin and Sparrow in size. In length, they are from 12 to 15 cm. Their weight can differ from 17 g to 30 g. Their wingspan is about 27 to 30 cm. Due to the curved structure, their wings appear smaller than it is. 

Chimney Swift Behavior

The only time they can forage is when they are flying. The Chimney Swifts will keep an eye out for insects, and when they find their prey, they will catch them in the air. Even though they tend to fly at a higher range, they are closer to the ground in humid weather. Most of their foraging practice takes place in small flocks of Swifts instead of a big group. 

What Chimney Swifts Eat

The primary food source for Chimney Swifts is insects. Moths, true bugs, flies, and beetles are part of their varied diet. Sometimes, spiders make their way into their food intake. At times, they will focus all their hunting concentration on insect groups. Adult ants with wings are some of the insects they enjoy catching and eating a lot. 

Where Chimney Swifts Live And Habitat

You can notice Chimney Swifts wherever the sky is clear. Especially the town and city folks are well acquainted with their visage. The terrain is of no consequence to them. They will hover around any area where they can find insects that are capable of flying. Only, in their range, you might find forests where there are lots of hollow trees. They can use these hollow trees as nests or use them to rest. 

Range and Migration

The eastern part of the United States is acquainted with Chimney Swifts as breeding birds who visit during the right season. Eastern Canada, specifically the southern region, also sees an influx of Chimney Swifts during the breeding season. Then, in winter, the species migrates to the south of America. 

The west of the U.S. knows them as rare visitors in summer. In some parts such as the UK, the Virgin Islands, Portugal, and Jamaica, they have been termed vagrants in records. Sticky forest lands, savanna, open countries, and woods with sloping grounds are their preferred habitat. 

It wasn’t until 1944 that the world had any idea about exactly where Chimney Swifts went to in winter. It’s when the birds’ bands were discovered in Peru, traveling from North America. 

Chimney Swift Lifecycle

Chimney Swifts have 4 to 5 eggs in a brood. They can have 6 eggs when they are well fed versus 3 when there is a shortage of flying insects. Both parents take part in incubation with a time period ranging from 19 to 21 days. 

Both parents feed the young ones. They will keep insects in their bill and then feed them to their young. After 20 days, the young become capable of leaving their nest. They use the walls to creep up vertically. Then, at about 28 to 30 days, the young ones gain better control of their wings, finally flying out to the world. 


A big part of the courtship for Chimney Swifts has aerial displays as part of the process. There is this display where two birds might fly close to each other. Both have their wings held in a V shape as one takes the lead and the other follows them. A pair of breeding birds might have an adult friend who helps them out, even termed helper. 

For their nest site, they might choose chimneys, hollow trees, or other such towering structures with hollow space in them. They don’t stay close to the opening of such vacant spaces. Instead, they fly downward and find the optimal shaded area. 

Chimneys have become their regular nest area. Before, they had easier access to hollow trees, where they would nest. Both members of a pair of breeding birds help in building the nest. 

The nest itself is shaped similar to a saucer, an incomplete one rather. They use twigs to build the nest, and the saliva of the Chimney Swifts assists in keeping the structure glued. When adults zoom past the nest, they might break off some of the twigs due to the speed with which they fly. 

Anatomy of a Chimney Swift

Chimney Swifts have the kind of appearance most birders won’t find attractive at first. There aren’t any beautiful, colorful patterns on their body and most people do not find them adorable. For true birders, though, seeing birds with interesting shapes and sizes is half the fun. 

The Chimney Swifts have an extremely short tail. It’s tapered and forms an overall rectangle shape. The head is unusually round. From their head to their chest, there’s only a small expanse of space for their neck. The body is an elongated one, with the chest and belly reminding one of an egg. 

Their wings are curved and are on the short side. Short as they are, the legs of the Chimney Swifts aren’t capable of supporting the body of the species at all. For this reason, Chimney Swifts are incapable of perching anywhere and have to rely on chimneys and tree hollows to survive the time they spend on the ground. 

Final Thoughts

If you live in the east of the U.S., be it towns or cities, if you glance at the sky, you will probably see the familiar silhouette of Chimney Swifts. They are specifically a common sight summer round. The way their body is shaped while flying, their shadow has gotten the name of a “flying cigar”. 

If you wander around rivers and lakes, you have a higher chance of coming across Swifts. In these areas, you can find them foraging with swallows as their buddies. Their companions happen to have larger wings and flowy wingbeats. 

Be on the lookout for their calls. It’s a high-pitched, distinguishable sound that seems as if the Chimney Swifts are chattering among themselves. While they are foraging, they are known to make sounds with their wings as well. Come migration season; it becomes clear why the species have “chimney” in their name. Flocks of them almost imitate an upcoming tornado at dawn as they make their way inside people’s chimneys to roost there for the night. 

Originally, the population saw a rise in numbers after they learned how to use chimneys to hold their body upright. Hollow trees weren’t widely available and still aren’t. However, as even chimneys are being done away with in human settlements, the population has begun to decline again. Still, you can count them as a common species. 

So, if you live somewhere in their migration range, you probably won’t even need to roam around specific habitats to see them. They will come flying down your chimney one day. 


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At the Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Chimney Swift  

The most common types of bird-watching binoculars for viewing Chimney Swifts are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Chimney Swift Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Chimney Swift. Here is the sticker pack we sell with a Chimney Swift sticker.

Bird Feeders For Chimney Swift

There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.

Best Bird Houses For Chimney Swift

There are many types of birdhouses. Building a birdhouse is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 birdhouses have become our favorites. Getting a birdhouse for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these birdhouses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.

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