Swifts-Apr. 2002

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet!

How fast does flapping make a bird travel? If we compare birds to the fastest land animal, the African Cheetah, which can sprint along at 70 MPH for short stretches, the difference is apparent. When birds turn on the speed, they leave us ground dwellers in the dust. Many birds, including the plump pigeons, can attain speeds of 100 MPH. Swifts, Falcons and Sandpipers can approach 200 MPH during a dive. So the name Chimney Swift seems appropriate, for this little 5”, 8 Oz. bird.

Chimney Swifts are very vocal and exhibit a large variety of sounds during their stay. They are not here year-round but do stay in Pennsylvania for the warmer months. They winter in the Amazon basin in Peru. Chimney Swift’s wings make a “whooshing” sound. They utter a gentle chattering when socializing with one another. They basically go unnoticed while controlling the insects in our area. Their flocks zig zag across the sky, with wings twittering as they feed their voracious appetites.

Chimney Swifts are Neo-Tropical migrants, and their numbers are in decline thoughout North America. Historically nesting in hollow trees, the Swift’s natural habitats were removed by American pioneers clearing the forests as they proceded westward across the continent. Being adaptable, the birds that Audubon called American Swifts became know as Chimney Swifts because they began nesting in the pioneers’ masonry chimneys.

The Swift is sooty gray to black with the throat silvery gray in color. Both sexes are identical in appearance. They have long wings which cross over each other approximately one inch over their bristled tail feathers when they are folded. Their long claws and tail bristles are used to cling to rough vertical surfaces. Swifts are not able to perch or stand upright as other passerines or song birds do. Perhaps no other Eastern “landbird” is as continuously airborne as the Chimney Swift. Whether over cities, towns, farms, or other wild areas, the sky and the insects contained therein are the main features of this species habitat.

Swifts are great engineers, and they carry all their tools with them during their quick flights. The female normally lays five white eggs beginning in May. Both sexes break off the tips of tree branches and with special glue-like saliva, attach the sticks to a vertical surface such as the inside of chimney. So the Swifts primary earthy requirement is a dark, sheltered vertical wall to cling to while roosting overnight or against which to “glue” its coarse stick and saliva nest.

If you find these Swift facts fascinating, try building a Swift tower and help preserve these Neo-Tropical insect controllers in our area. To obtain plans for the Swift tower send a self addressed envelope to Verna McGinley 462 Coolidge Ave. 15228, or visit the Driftwood Wildlife Association Web site at: http://www.concentric.net/~Dwa/ .

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