Chimney Swift

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Chaetura pelagica

Chimney Swift

The Chimney Swift is a very small bird with slender body and very long, narrow, curved wings. It has a round head, short neck, and short, tapered tail. The very small black bill has huge gape extending back below the eyes. It allows the bird to snatch insects in flight.

The short, square tail shows several spines of up to almost 8 mm beyond the tips of the rectrices, forming the distinctive “spines” or “needles” giving the bird the name “spinetail”.

The powerful wings with hooked outer wing and pointed wingtips help the bird to decrease air turbulence during the flight.

The black legs are typically very short with small but strong feet. The toes have very sharp, curved claws, and are placed with one back and three forwards. The back toe can be moved forwards for better grip on vertical surfaces.

Both sexes measure about 4.7 - 5.9 inches in length, with a wingspan of 10.6 - 11.8 inches and weight of 17 - 30 grams.

They are dark gray-brown all over, slightly paler on the throat. At distance and when backlit against the sky they can appear to be all black.

Males and females have similar plumage, but the males are slightly heavier than the females.

Juveniles resemble the adults, but have small white tips to inner flight-feathers.

Produces series of short single notes “tsip…tsip…tsip…tsip…” usually followed by twittering descending trills “t-t-rrrr… t-t-rrrr…t-t-rrrr…” They are very vocal, and especially during the breeding season.

Feeds mainly on flying insects including beetles, flies, true bugs and moths. It also catches spiders and other insects by hovering at branches.

Lives in the air, but during the breeding season, it is often found near human settlements including cities and towns.

In South America, it frequents irrigated cultivated areas where humans are living. In natural settings, it can be found at the edge of forested rivers, or at the edge of lowland evergreen forests or secondary growth scrub, and over the Andean valleys in Peru and Ecuador.

This species may occur up to 2,500 meters of elevation, sometimes higher in S Ecuador.

Breeds in the eastern part of North America and winters in NW South America.

They typically nest in chimneys, but other structures are also used. Both adults build a half-cup shaped nest with twigs glued together with saliva, and is glued to a vertical surface. It is placed well down from the opening, usually in shaded area.

The female lays 3 - 5 white eggs, and both adults share the incubation during 16 - 21 days.


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