Chimney Swift Monitoring
The Canadian Chimney Swift population has declined by almost 30% over the last
three generations (13.5 years), and there has been a simultaneous and comparable
decrease in area of occupancy over the same period of time. This dramatic and
rapid population decline has led to the recent listing of Chimney Swifts by the
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as a
federally threatened species. Similar declines in swift numbers and range are
unfortunately all too common across North America, but it is difficult to
identify the cause for these declines as little is yet known about Chimney Swift
behaviour and ecology. Decreases in suitable roosting /nesting habitat, a
decline of insect availability, and an increase in unpredictable weather are
among the several suspected causes.
Several individuals and field naturalist groups across Ontario have already
recognised the need to monitor Chimney Swift populations. Bird Studies Canada (BSC)
is interested in helping to coordinate monitoring efforts, with the goal of
creating a standard protocol. Our goals are to record swift numbers, behaviour
and, movements throughout their Ontario range, resulting in comprehensive and
comparable province-wide population trends.
BSC is looking for volunteers to observe and identify potential nesting and
roosting sites throughout Ontario. Please contact us if you would like to
participate in identifying Chimney Swift sites, know of any nesting/roosting
locations, or would like to volunteer in a longer-term monitoring program in
your community. This project is an excellent opportunity to directly contribute
to Chimney Swift conservation efforts.
Monitoring protocols and data entry sheets
Simple observations (number of swifts, behaviour, movements) made at chimneys throughout the swift’s range will aid in increasing our understanding of Chimney Swift population trends. The following field data sheets were developed for a volunteer-based program where individuals make observations of chimneys and Chimney Swifts from the ground. Any suggestions for changes to the monitoring protocols, especially from experienced individuals or organisations, are welcome!
Background Information on Chimney Swifts
Chimney Swifts are an urban-dwelling aerial insectivore. They can be readily identified by their cigar-shaped body, long narrow pointed wings, short spiny tail, and quick jerky movements while in flight. They are a vocal bird that makes a series of high-pitched chip notes while in flight, and can often be heard before they are seen. All ages and sexes are similar in appearance, with dark brown plumage, and a pale throat, chin and cheeks.
The Chimney Swift breeds in E. North America from southern Canada (Nova Scotia to Saskatchewan) down through the Great Plains states to Texas, and east through to the Atlantic coast (Godfrey 1986, Am. Ornithol. Union 1998). Some newly established populations have also been found in southern California (Small 1994).
Historically, Chimney Swifts nested in large hollow trees found in old growth forests, but the logging practices and forest management techniques of early Europeans settlers resulted in the
removal of these potential nest sites. Today, Chimney Swifts are primarily found nesting and roosting in chimneys and other similar manmade structures.
In Ontario, Chimney Swifts arrive in late-April to early-May, building nests of loosely woven sticks secured with the bird's glue-like saliva. During the nesting season a chimney will host only one pair of nesting swifts, though it is not uncommon to find additional "helpers" roosting with the nesting pair, or groups of unmated individuals roosting together in large numbers. On average, four to five eggs are laid per nest and incubated for a period of 10 to 20 days. After 30 days the young are fledged, and by early- to mid-summer adults and young will flock together in large roosts that can host birds numbering in the thousands. Towards the end of the summer, roosting individuals will congregate for their migration to the upper Amazon basin in South America, where they will remain until the following spring.
Ontario Programs Biologist
Bird Studies Canada
115 Front Street, P.O. Box 160
Port Rowan, Ontario
Telephone: 888-448-2473 ext. 173