Lakeside Nature Center

Critter Corner - Chimney Swift
(Chaetura pelagica)


Chimney swifts are not able to stand upright.  Instead, they must cling to a vertical surface.  Their small, strong feet are each tipped with four sharp claws that act like grappling hoots to hold them firmly in their roost.  Additional support comes from stiff tail feather shafts.


Chimney swifts feast on flying insects such as mosquitoes, mayflies, caddis flies and even ballooning spiders.  They spend daylight hours consuming as many as 2000 insects daily, with up to 200 held in he throat at one time.  They drink and bathe by dipping in pond or river water as they fly over.


Chimney swifts nest and roost in hollow trees, smokestacks, air shafts and masonry chimneys.  The inside surface of the structure must be rough enough for them to grip to the sides.  Their shallow half-cup nest is made of twigs cemented together with saliva and fastened to the wall.  Since they never perch, twigs for the nest are snapped off with their feet as they fly by.  Typically, there is only one nest per site.  Both parents share in incubating and raising their two to five offspring,  At 28-30 days of age, the young take their first flight with their parents.


Chimney swifts nest throughout the United States, except for most Western states.  They migrate to the Amazon basin to spend the winter.  Plentiful insects are a must for survival, so they fly south when the weather gets cold.




Chimney swifts are considered one of the fastest fliers in the bird world.  Flight and great aerial maneuvers help this bird escape predators.


  • Chimney swifts have been called flying cigars and bows-and-arrows because of their shape while in flight.

  • The chimney swift population declined when people began removing dead trees.  Then the numbers increased as chimneys were built.  Now chimney construction has changed and chimney swift populations may be at risk.

  • Some caring people have begun construction special towers to attract chimney swifts so the birds can help keep mosquito numbers low. 

  • Lakeside Nature Center and the Friends of Lakeside Nature Center have constructed a tower at the Center.  You can see inside using the swift cam in the Nature Center Building.

 To learn more about chimney swifts, visit or

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(Photo credits: Portrait of chimney swift, Joyce Rosson, FOLNC Volunteer; Swifts in nest from; Swift nest from Illinois State Museum; Swifts in flight, Missouri Department of Conservation)

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