Helping Seven Chimney Swifts Defy the Odds

Aug 16, 2022

John was reroofing his house

and removing the chimney when he stumbled upon several noisy baby birds. He didn’t recognize the type of bird and wasn’t sure if they were okay, so he contacted Anderson Humane. When our wildlife team saw the birds, their suspicions were confirmed: they were chimney swifts.

Stephanie Franczak, Wildlife Care Manager at Anderson Humane, was excited to receive these “incredible birds.” Using twigs and their spit, they build their nests in chimneys, which mimic hollow trees. “They can only cling to vertical surfaces and they do everything while flying (eating, drinking, bathing),” Stephanie said. “They have even been seen a mile above the earth’s surface!”

The team was also excited to care for the chimney swifts because their population has declined 95% in the last 50 years, as chimneys have largely gotten capped and less nutritious food sources have negatively impacted their health. Fearing their future extinction, “many organizations have built ‘swift towers,’ which act like a chimney or hollow tree for the birds to use as nesting and roosting sites,” said Ashley Kendall, Director of Wildlife at Anderson Humane.

Despite the wildlife team’s enthusiasm, caring for the chimney swifts was a challenge, especially these babies who are used to being fed flying insects by their parents. Ashley suspects they were separated from their mom when the chimney came down. “Mom always does better at caring for her babies,” Ashley said. Considering that chimney swifts have their babies in summer, she suggested that people wait until fall for any chimney work, as that is how many of the babies get harmed.

Knowing these babies were so vulnerable, “we poured hours into their research and care,” Stephanie said. “We even built multiple fake chimneys and got a 10-foot tent for them to fly in before release!” They need to be strong flyers before going back to the wild because they do everything in flight. “They require very specific nutritional needs and my team worked so hard to give it to them,” Stephanie said, adding that this research will help them care for future chimney swifts.

When the babies were finally ready for release, the wildlife team reached out to some key partners, including Marion and Rich Miller of Kane County Audubon. “Marion and Rich monitor chimney swift populations in Kane County, every year hosting a ‘chimney swift count’ the first weekend in September,” Ashley said.

They gathered at 8:00 one recent evening for the release of the seven birds. “These guys will gather by the thousands for migration next month and begin their journey to Peru. It’s an amazing thing to see,” Ashley said.

“We felt incredibly honored to not only have all seven swifts we received make it to release, but that we also took the time to work with other people within the community that care for the swifts as much as we do, to guarantee their highest chance of survival.”

Learn more about our wildlife programs.

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