Protecting Threatened Chimney Swift Populations

Dr. Jessica Hite, PhD, is an ornithological and environmental expert who is working to protect a threatened population of chimney swift birds in Bloomington, Indiana.

“I love their perseverance,” she shares. “That they’re like, ‘Oh you tore down my forest? No problem, I’ll just move into your chimney.’ I think that’s a reminder for everybody.”

Video Transcript

Chimney Swift (not a bat)

Jessica Hite: These are the dolphins of the sky. They’re magical, and happy, and they’re just out there cleaning up our skies, removing all these insects that bug the heck out of us.

A chimney swift is an amazing bird that breeds in North America, and over winters in South America. Their populations are threatened, so they’re not quite endangered, but they’re on their way to being endangered. They’re really amazing acrobats. And so there is zigzagging around in the sky all day long. Here, around town, they live in lots of the old chimneys in the churches, in old houses.

Bloomington, Indiana

They go so fast. I don’t know; it might be hard. Did you see them there? 

I think they’re amazing because you can be in a city environment and then they can take you out of whatever your busy, distracted day is. It can be stressful or what have you, and then you catch this really playful chitter-chatter up in the sky, and it sort of gives you a moment of reprieve, right?

There were fewer and fewer old forests for them. But, they said, “No problem. These chimneys look very similar and they function very similar to trees. We are totally fine with that. Happy to use your chimney.”

More people are now using chimney caps. The swifts can’t find places to nest.

The goal is that we have more nesting sites for them. So, we worked with community artists and artisans to construct lots of these, we call them functional sculptures. They’re really just gigantic bird houses. Each tower can support about 500 birds, sort of like couch surfing for birds. Only one tower will house a nest, so there’s only one nest per site.

Existing chimneys can be removed to accommodate swifts.

All the birds need, I was talking about them being these really amazing acrobats. They only need a 12-inch clearance. So, you can still have the cap, you can remove the screen, and just make sure that the adjustment is only 12 inches and they can still go in there and use it.

At dusk, hundreds of bird spiral down into roosting sites.

Oh, there they go. Whew, that’s a good one. I love their perseverance, that they’re like, “Oh sure, you tore down my forest? No problem. I’ll just move into your chimney.” I think that’s a great reminder for everybody, especially for kids when we’re doing outreach. I’m talking with a lot of immigrant children that they’ve been kicked out of their homes, or they don’t have a place to stay. I think it’s a great example that you’re not alone, that animals often face this, and they persevere. So, if they can do it. We can do it. Ah, done!

Eyes open. Grotto Network.

So now Chimneys Swifts can go in there and they will hang out. They’ll put their giant hands on the rough walls of the limestone, and they’ll anchor down using their tail spines, and they’ll just hang out there. Now they don’t seem to actually sleep.

Be in the know with Grotto