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What's Cheeping In Your Chimney

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

As a child, did you worry about things that go bump in the night? Many people, even adults, either enjoy or worry about things that go "cheep" in their chimneys this time of year.

They may have seen dark animals darting around their chimney and dropping down the shaft at dusk. Some people, hearing a raucous chattering emitting from their fireplace, grab the phone and call the Conservation Department to report bats in their chimney.

The "culprits" behind the racket in the chimney are not bats, however, but birds with a unique lifestyle. They are known by several aliases, including chimney sweep, chimney bat and chimney swallow. The correct name for this species is chimney swift. The rapid flight of the birds and their propensity to nest in chimneys account for this name.

Unless you look inside your chimney, the only way you are likely to see a chimney swift is as a flying silhouette. Their color is sooty gray. They have short, stout bodies and long, pointed wings shaped like scythes. This is why they are also called "flying cigars" and "bow and arrow."

Swifts are only about five inches long and weigh less than one ounce, but their wingspan reaches up to 12 inches.

Their tiny feet and legs serve only as grappling hooks. Chimney swifts are unable to perch horizontally like other birds. Instead, they land only on rough, vertical surfaces like the inside of a chimney or hollow tree. Their tail feathers are stiff and pointed and serve as struts, similar to the tail of a woodpecker. While vertical shafts like chimneys are death traps for other birds, they are as easy to navigate for a chimney swift as tree branches are for a flitting cardinal.

More than any other birds in Missouri, chimney swifts are designed to live in the air. They do almost everything on the wing, including all of their feeding, courting, drinking, bathing, collecting twigs for nesting and even mating. In fact, they stop flying only for night roosting and nesting. European swifts, which are related to our chimney swift, have even been known to spend the night aloft.

Chimney swifts fly with stiff, shallow wingbeats broken by short glides, often accompanied by twittering chatter. They perform tight turns with wings held up in a "V." Short, massive wing bones and long wing feathers account for their stiff, erratic wing movements. However, this apparent awkwardness does not detract from their

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