Photo by Christian Artuso
How do I recognize it? Many people mistake the Chimney Swift for a swallow. It is similar in that it hunts insects in flight, has slender, pointed wings and a relatively short head. However, swallows often have forked or notched tails, while the Chimney Swift has a short stubby tail. The swift also has a body shaped like a cigar, a narrow wing base and long, thin wings, while swallows have a slender body with broad-based and triangular wings. Swifts are also recognized by fast twittering calls in flight, and a dark, gray-brown plumage. Another key identification feature is the Chimney Swifts propensity for hanging around the tops of chimneys, and if you are lucky, it's habit of plunging headlong into the dark environs of these places.
Is it migratory? As an insect-eating specialist, Chimney Swifts would not survive long in the Manitoba winter! Instead they migrate to the Upper Amazon, including Columbia, Peru and Brazil. Many southerly migrating Nature Manitoba members may see the early Chimney Swifts arriving in Florida and Texas during March - but do not mistake them for a Vaux's Swift!
Photo by Christian Artuso
Where does it live? Chimneys have replicated the natural habitat of these birds - large decaying Cottonwoods now rarely found in areas such as the Red River Valley. Chimney Swifts spend the summer in urban centres in the transition zone between the hardwood and boreal forest with larger numbers of swifts encountered in Winnipeg, Saint Adolphe, Portage la Prairie, Selkirk, Dauphin and Lac du Bonnet. South of this zone, we also find swifts in some prairie towns such as Carman, Melita, Brandon and Souris. There have also been Chimney Swifts spotted as far north as The Pas. There have been records in recent history of swifts nesting in natural cavities in Riding Mountain and there were tantalising records during the Breeding Bird Atlas in the Porcupine Hills. If anyone finds swifts nesting in natural cavities please contact the Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative.
Where can I see it? There are Chimney Swifts present in towns across southern and into central Manitoba. Take a look at the Manitoba Chimney Swift Initiative (MCSI) website for information about where you might find swifts in your area. MCSI is looking for new volunteers to monitor swift sites in Winnipeg, Souris, Clearwater and beyond. If you are interested in helping monitor these amazing birds please contact Tim Poole. MCSI will be running a Swiftwatch night in June 2017 at Assiniboine School, a large roost in St James.
Conservation status: The Chimney Swift is considered a Threatened Species by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada), listed as Threatened under the Manitoba Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act, and it is listed as globally Near-threatened by Birdlife International. Its numbers are estimated to have declined by 95% in Canada since the 1960s. Declines have been linked to habitat loss locally due to modern furnace design via capping, lining and demolition of chimneys. Habitat loss on the wintering grounds is due to conversion of wetlands and floodplains for agriculture and other human purposes. Interestingly aerial insectivores such as swifts and swallows are suffering higher rates of decline than all groups of migratory birds in Canada bar grassland birds. This suggests that Chimney Swifts, swallows and nighthawks are being influenced by changes to their food.