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Is That a Federally Protected Bird Nesting in My Chimney?

Chimney SwiftChimney swifts are the most common birds that nest in chimneys in the Eastern U.S. If you have heard unusual, high pitched chirping coming from your fireplace or seen bat-like birds circling your chimney, it is likely that these federally protected birds have made your chimney their seasonal home. Whether you are willing to let them live in your chimney or want to have the removed, knowing more about them and how to address this situation will help.

How to Identify a Chimney Swift

Chimney swifts are very unique little birds with charcoal grey feathers and curving wings. They’re usually 5 inches long with about a 12 inch wingspan and only weigh around one ounce. Due to how rapidly they beat their wings in flight, along with their dark color and unusual wing shape, they are often mistaken for bats. As migratory birds, they live in the U.S. from March through November and then travel down to South America where they spend the winter months.

Instead of foraging on the ground for food like robins and sparrows, chimney swifts hunt in flight. These birds are rarely idle. Unless they are sleeping or sitting on a nest nurturing their young, they are in flight. Each day they eat about a third of their weight in small insects like mosquitoes, beetles and termites.

It is rare to see a chimney swift perched on a tree branch or flittering across your yard because distinctive the shape of their legs and claws makes it difficult for them to perch on and take off from horizontal surfaces. Instead, they latch onto vertical surfaces like the interior of hollowed trees, caves and chimney walls.

Though chimney swifts often nest in large groups, many homeowners do not even realize they have made a home in their chimney until they hear the babies chirping. Their young do not hatch until about a month before they migrate. It is only during the last two weeks, when they are waiting to be fed, that they become loud. This disturbance does not last long, by the end of those two weeks they will be strong enough to make the long journey south.

Why Are Chimney Swifts Federally Protected?

As migratory birds, chimney swifts are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Without a federal permit, Federal Law prohibits the removal of an occupied nest as well as the removal of the birds themselves.

Due to the thinning of forests—particularly the habitual removal of hollow trees—and the increased use of chimney caps and metal flue liners, the population of chimney swifts is quickly declining. These factors have made it challenging for these little birds to find a home and rear their young. Metal flue liners pose a double threat to chimney swifts, not only are the birds unable to latch onto the smooth surface of the walls, they can easily get trapped inside them.

chimney swift eggsHow to Legally Remove Chimney Swifts

If chimney swifts are nesting in your chimney, you will have to wait to take action until they migrate for the winter. Once they have headed south, you can schedule a chimney & fireplace cleaning to have the nest removed and a chimney cap installed. It is important to have the nest fully cleaned out before the chimney cap is installed because leaving it could cause a chimney fire. Since chimney swifts are migratory birds, if a chimney cap is not installed, they will return to your chimney the next year.

How to Host Chimney Swifts

Since chimney swifts eat pesky summer insects, it can be beneficial to let them nest in your chimney. If you have a clay tile or ceramic flue line and don’t mind sharing your home with these little birds during the spring and summer, be sure to follow these simple rules:

1. Have your chimney cap removed and open your upper damper, if you have one, so that they have access to your chimney.

2. Make sure your chimney is safe for them to inhabit by having a professional chimney sweep remove buildup of creosote and soot at the end of the winter. After they have migrated south, remember to have your chimney cleaned again to remove the nest, since it is a fire hazard.

3. Make sure the damper at the base of your chimney is securely closed so that their nest doesn’t fall into the hearth and especially to prevent baby birds from falling down the chimney into the firebox.

4. If a baby bird has fallen into the hearth, gingerly pick it up and place it on the wall of the chimney. Even when its eyes are still closed it should be able to climb back up to its nest.

chimney swift towerCreating an Alternative Home for Chimney Swifts

Allowing chimney swifts to live in your chimney isn’t the only way to create a home for them. Many bird lovers construct an artificial chimney in their yard for these birds to nest in. These are called chimney swift towers. You can find simple, step-by-step instructions on many websites if you are interested in building a chimney swift tower,

Our professional chimney sweeps are here to help you if you need to identify what type of bird is living in your chimney or have an uninhabited nest that needs to be removed. We can also clean out your chimney in anticipation of hosting chimney to swifts. To set up a cleaning or inspection, contact one of our chimney sweep professionals today!

Stop by your local UFS member store to find a huge selection of hearth products from top rated pellet stoves to zero-clearance fireplaces and more! Our hearth experts are here to answer questions regarding your fireplace & chimney needs.

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