Chimney Swifts – Monitoring & Conservation Initiatives

The Chimney Swift is a small, sooty-grey bird that once nested and roosted inside hollow trees in old-growth forests. For shelter it now relies mainly on old, unlined brick chimneys. Swifts come to land only to enter their chimneys, where they cling vertically, held by strong claws and braced by a stiff, spine-tipped tail. Swifts construct nests from tiny twigs held together and to the inner wall of the chimney by their glue-like saliva.

Swifts are aerial foragers, catching insects on the wing. They generally forage high above roof tops and the urban tree canopy. In London, swifts can be found downtown, and in older industrial and residential areas. They winter in the upper Amazon basin and return to London each year in late April or early May, departing in late September or early October.

In 2003, members of Nature London heard rumours that Chimney Swifts were in serious trouble. To try to learn more, they began counting swifts as they dived into a few big old chimneys to roost for the night. By the next fall they had identified more roost chimneys and organized a regular monitoring schedule.

In 2009 the Chimney Swift was officially designated as Threatened under both federal and provincial laws.

Over the years volunteer swift watchers, under the direction of Nature London’s Chimney Swift Liaison, have carried out a variety of projects on behalf of Chimney Swifts. All have the goal of learning more about Chimney Swifts and of ultimately helping in the conservation of the species.

Undertakings fall into two main categories (which are often intertwined):

Monitoring: Monitoring activities chiefly consist of:

  1. Counting non-breeding swifts (May to October) as they enter chimneys to roost for the night.
  2. Searching for additional chimneys used by swifts for roosting.
  3. Identifying chimneys used by nesting swifts (just one pair per chimney).
  4. Monitoring the use of chimneys by swift families and determining nesting success.

In 2010 Bird Studies Canada launched a provincial initiative, Ontario SwiftWatch. Since then, London volunteers enter all monitoring data online to the OSW database.

Starting in 2017, swift monitoring in London has been organized by a SwiftWatch Coordinator, Sandy Symmes, who ensures that as many chimneys as possible are monitored; that all data reach the Ontario SwiftWatch database; and that volunteers are trained, receive timely updates of count results and are generally kept happy. ☺

Conservation: Examples of typical activities are:

  1. Delivering PowerPoint presentations on swifts to schools and community groups.
  2. Responding to inquiries and preparing educational materials for diverse audiences.
  3. Tracking rates of loss of local chimneys used by swifts.
  4. Advocating for protection of swift chimneys (landowners, governments, NGOs, etc.).
  5. Writing reports and articles.
  6. Making input on swift-related issues to policy documents, governmental processes, etc.
  7. Collaborating with others, and taking advantage of opportunities to promote swift conservation.
  8. Teaming up with wildlife rehabilitators who specialize in the care of swifts to facilitate releases of hand-reared orphaned swifts.

Nature London’s Chimney Swift volunteers are a very informal group. If you would like to get involved in helping with Chimney Swift monitoring and conservation, we welcome you. Please contact us at chimneyswift@naturelondon.com. To learn more about Chimney Swifts and Nature London’s associated activities, please see our Chimney Swift Resources.

Winifred Wake,
Chimney Swift Liaison
April 18, 2018