Chimney Swift

Chaetura pelagica
A Chimney Swift specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

The Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica), famously described by Roger Tory Peterson in his pioneering A Field Guide to the Birds as resembling "a cigar with wings", is one of the nine swift species in the New World genus Chaetura. Several Chaetura species, including C. pelagica, originally built their nests in hollow trees but now often nest inside chimneys or other human-built structures. The Chimney Swift is the only swift regularly occurring in eastern North America. In late summer, large flocks may be seen in the sky at dusk, giving their distinctive chattering calls. Chimney Swifts feeding on flying insects are a familiar sight in the open skies over towns and cities across the eastern United States and adjacent Canada,. Within the Chinmey Swift's range, artificial nest sites such as chimneys are far more common than suitable hollow trees. Chimney swift courtship involves aerial displays. Nesting is often colonial and the breeding pair is often assisted by an extra adult “helper”. The nest, which is constructed by both sexes, is shaped like half a saucer and is made of twigs glued together with the birds’ saliva. Adults break off short dead twigs from trees while zooming past in flight. Clutch size is 4 to 5 white eggs (range 3 to 6). Incubation (for 19 to 21 days) is by both parents. Both parents feed young (by regurgitating insects). Young may climb out of the nest after around 20 days, clambering up vertical walls. Young typically first fly at around 28 to 30 days. Chimney Swifts migrate in flocks, apparently during the day. They winter in eastern Peru, northern Chile, and in the upper Amazon basin of eastern Peru and northwestern Brazil. (Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998)

DC Information

Common breeding migrant throughout this region, arriving in late April and departing August through October. Nests from early May to early September. Sexes are similar.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC52369 Chaetura pelagica (Chimney Swift)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC53395 Chaetura pelagica (Chimney Swift)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17058 Chaetura pelagica (Chimney Swift)