This column is for the birds! — The Chimney Swifts, that is.
I don’t want to jinx this whole nice weather thing, but spring is in the air. And while so many of us wait to celebrate the return of the hummingbirds, I bring you this caution — soon the sky (and many chimneys) will be full of Swifts.
But before I delve too deeply into the swift problem, I bring you great news — according to Leon Russel of Pleasant Places, who’s rock-star-namesake will be appearing at Merlefest this week, hummingbirds have been sighted in neighboring South Carolina.
By the time you read this, there will be hummers among us. Unfortunately, following closely in their “wingsteps,” will be large numbers of swifts.
Did you know? — The birds that Audubon originally named American Swifts traditionally nested and roosted in hollow trees. As forests were cleared to make way for farmland, the Swifts adapted to similar, hollowed-out structures — like masonry chimneys.
Over the years, the range of Swifts greatly expanded with the availability of this new, man-made habitat — and this species of birds have been commonly renamed Chimney Swifts.
Did you know? — Chimney Swifts are very beneficial to the ecosystem. Each cigar-shaped Swift consumes one-third its own weight in flying insect pests (including mosquitoes, biting flies and termites) every day.
The Chimney Swifts fly (and eat) so much because, unlike songbirds, they cannot perch. That’s also the reason they seek out deep shafts, like chimneys, to rest, raise their families and roost at night.
And when Swifts raise their families, they make quite a ruckus. If you have Swifts inhabiting your chimney, you might say something like, “Chimney cricket! What the ?#$@!! is that sound?
Actually, Swifts make several interesting sounds. For starters, there is the “whooshing” of the Swifts as they fly in and out of your chimney. Then there is very loud, high-pitched “yippering” of the fledglings crying for food. Oh, how they cry for food! Then there is the Swifts’ mechanical, hissing alarm call when they are frightened.
Yes, there's no doubt about it, you'll know when you have Chimney Swifts.
But before you start to smoke out the Swifts or head to the gun closet, you need to know that they are protected by state wildlife codes and the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916.
Once Swifts have staked a claim on your chimney, there is nothing you can legally do but make the best of the situation. Close your damper, to “dampen” the sound. Play your Merle Haggard albums a little bit louder. Use your blender to make several smoothies a day.
Eventually (like at the end of the season) Chimney Swifts will migrate south again. But they will leave behind nests and debris that can block your chimney and cause other problems.
So what’s a bird and fireplace lover to do? Simple, install a chimney cap that will prevent Swifts and keep debris, weather and other animals out of your chimney.
Chimney caps are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, and in finishes from stainless steel to copper.
My recommendation is to shop local and support Clean Sweep Chimney Service and Fireplace Shop, at 1547 S. Main Street. Mention this column to my friends, Patrick and Alex Tinsley, and in addition to a lifetime warranty, you’ll receive a 10 percent discount on labor and installation. For particulars, call 456-9775.
Oh yes, there’s one more thing you can do to help the Chimney Swifts — work with local conservation groups to construct Chimney Swift towers in our community.