Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

swift in the city

Chimney Swifts can even be found in urban landscapes such as the one pictured above.

During the late spring and summer months, urban areas come alive with nightlife and the hustle and bustle of city-living. The summer days and evenings are sweltering with heat and humidity, and as a result, bugs and other insects abound.

As you stroll through city streets during these times, look up and take a moment to admire a magical species of urban wildlife: the Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica). This neotropical migrant, or a bird that flies to Central and South America during the winter months, has a rare lifestyle. We’re used to thinking of native migrant birds as requiring vast wetlands or woodlands with minimal human disruption. However, the Chimney Swift, as its name implies, nests in Chimneys of old houses and buildings and then flies around the city swooping for flying insects to feed on. Chimney Swifts once nested in large, hallow trees, but have efficiently adapted to man-made brick chimneys in older towns and cities.
How can you identify this bird? You can see this bird swooping above the city skyline during the late spring and summer months. It is a dark grey bird whose distinguishing characteristic is “a cigar with wings” (click on above link to see a picture of this bird).
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Chimney Swift is of least conservation concerns. However, this may not hold true for much longer. As urban communities switch to modern chimneys that have cages enclosing the top of the chimney (often to prevent unwanted rodents from climbing on in), there are increasingly less nesting places for the swifts. Because of their reliance on old brick chimneys, it is possible that the Chimney Swift population of North America could gradually decline, creating a unique and atypical conservation problem. Most conservationists and controversialists work to protect naturalized systems, such as forests, wetlands, and prairies. Chimney Swifts remind us that we must also focus conservation efforts in urban landscapes. To ignore these urban environments could result in the extinction of wildlife such as the Chimney Swift.

One response to “swift in the city

  1. Pingback: Wild night in the city | Alex Palmer's Nature and Personal Reflection Notes

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