What's Cheeping In Your Chimney

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

agility. The sharp, abrupt turns performed by chimney swifts would create enough G-force to test the endurance of the best aerobatic pilots.

Though some banded chimney swifts have lived longer than 10 years, their average life span is believed to be about four years. Some researchers have estimated that swifts may fly more than 500 miles a day during the nesting season. Chimney swifts also annually travel to Peru for the winter and return the following spring. One banded chimney swift that lived for nine years is believed to have logged 1,350,000 flight miles during its lifetime.

The chimney swift is found throughout the eastern United States and is the only North American swift regularly found east of the Rocky Mountains. They historically nested in large, hollow trees, especially those with their tops blown off by wind or lightning.

Chimney Swift Myths

People unfamiliar with swifts are often concerned that the birds pose a danger to their health or homes. When the chimney is properly maintained, chimney swifts are neither a health hazard nor a fire hazard.

Myth 1: "These birds pose a health hazard. They spread histoplasmosis." This is false. Histoplasmosis is caused by breathing the spores of a fungus that grows in soil enriched by bird or bat droppings, or in areas where large amounts of droppings have accumulated over time, such as chicken houses, barns and caves.

The birds themselves are not infected with the fungus, so it is not present in their droppings. Therefore, chimney swifts technically cannot spread histoplasmosis.

Only when bird droppings are allowed to accumulate for several years and compost do they create conditions favorable to grow the fungus. Properly maintaining a chimney or fireplace inhabited by chimney swifts eliminates any risk of disease.

Myth 2: "Their nests in my chimney are a fire danger." Chimney swift nests are very small. Measuring just four inches across and made of a few small twigs, swift nests contain little combustible fuel, and they would not generate much heat even if they did catch fire.

If a nest were to ignite, it would probably just drop into the fireplace.

A much more dangerous fuel in chimneys is the creosote that condenses from wood smoke and adheres to the chimney walls. Annual cleaning will remove both the creosote and old swift nests. It will also keep the chimney safe for wood burning and attractive to swifts.

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