By Graham Sorenson, Aerial Insectivore Conservation Program Coordinator
Chimney Swifts are an amazing species – they migrate from Canada to the Amazon River basin, spend most of each day flying, nest and spend nights in chimneys and hollow trees, and eat a lot of insects (1,000+ a day!). And they are easy to see and hear – no need for early morning wake-ups or long hikes into the forest – Chimney Swifts can be found above most cities and towns in the eastern half of Canada.
Declines and Conservation
As European settlers arrived in North America, they cleared the mature forest which contained hollow trees used by swifts. Settlers built towns with brick chimneys, forcing Chimney Swifts to adapt to new chimney habitat. Now, brick chimneys are becoming scarce too, leaving Chimney Swifts with little nesting and roosting habitat. This habitat loss paired with declines in their insect food sources have caused an approximate 90% decline in Chimney Swift populations since 1970.
Protecting Chimney Swifts requires actions on multiple fronts:
- Halting and reversing insect decline so swifts have access to food
- Protecting and restoring mature forests so they have natural nesting and roosting habitats
- Continuing monitoring to better understand trends in habitat use
- Raising awareness about the stewardship actions needed to protect Chimney Swifts
Chimney Swifts now rely heavily on urban habitat, so municipal government actions can have meaningful impacts for this species. Birds Canada works closely with municipalities to provide tools for planning and permitting related to Chimney Swift habitat and resources to share with residents and businesses. This work is still in the early stages but is already producing results and strengthening connections with municipalities.
Thank you to municipalities
Maintaining Chimney Swift habitat in urban areas has direct benefits to municipalities – Chimney Swifts provide natural pest control by eating flying insects and often feeding over urban areas. They put on quite a show when they return to roost chimneys at dusk, drawing tourists and bringing together communities that host large Chimney Swift roosts.
Truro chimney. Photo: Rielle Hoeg
Several Maritime municipalities have quickly recognized the benefits of protecting Chimney Swifts and the importance of conserving biodiversity at the municipal level. Below are some examples of the engagement and actions municipalities are taking – thank you to these and all municipalities protecting biodiversity!
Saint Andrews, New Brunswick
This small, coastal town has flagged known Chimney Swift sites in their permitting system to prevent unintentional destruction or alteration of nests or roosts. The Visitor Information Centre stocks Chimney Swift brochures and the town’s Environmental Advisory Committee has added Chimney Swift content to their website to increase awareness.
Fredericton, New Brunswick
City staff have been very engaged in Chimney Swift discussions, especially around the future of the largest roost in Atlantic Canada. This spring, the City of Fredericton will share information about returning swifts and suggested stewardship action through their social media platforms, which you can find on their website. Their Municipal Plan includes a focus on protecting and acquiring environmentally significant lands, benefitting swifts and other species.
Truro, Nova Scotia
Truro has an interpretive panel displayed in the public plaza outside the public library, which hosts roosting Chimney Swifts. Birds Canada and the Town of Truro co-created the panel to educate visitors about swifts and their threats, and ways the public can help. Truro has also flagged important sites in their permitting database and plans to share social media posts.
How can you help?
Talk to your local government:
- Contact local government representatives to advocate for Chimney Swift stewardship
- Share information about Chimney Swifts with your neighbors and community
- Encourage protection and enhancement of natural habitats in and near urban areas
Monitor and report:
- Report sightings of Chimney Swift nests and roosts (swifts flying in or out of chimneys) to Birds Canada (contacts here)
- Participate in SwiftWatch to help us monitor Chimney Swift populations
- Report Chimney Swifts (and all birds!) to eBird Canada anytime
Take action at home:
- How to be a good Chimney Swift host – check your home for swifts and make your chimney swift-friendly!
- Chimney Swift Fund –funding available for chimney repairs if your chimney has hosted Chimney Swifts – keep an eye out for this year’s announcement
- Listen to The Warblers Podcast – The Wake-up Call: Chimney Swift
- Discover actions at our Guide to Helping Canada’s Birds like preventing bird-window collisions, gardening for birds, and being a bird-savvy consumer.