One of the joys I get from living in the city is the chittering calls and aerial acrobatics of the Chimney Swifts that nest on my block. I grew up with Vaux's Swifts in Oregon--birds that usually stay in the coniferous forests, unless they are drawn to urban roosts during migration. Living in the East, Chimney Swifts have been a lot of fun to hang out with, and I look forward to seeing them each year (photo:avesphoto).
In return for the enjoyment that they bring, there are things that we can actually do to help these amazing birds. My friends Paul and Georgean Kyle in Texas have a Chimney Swift conservation program that they run out of the Driftwood Wildlife Association. They encourage people to build artificial chimneys as roosting and nesting structures for the swifts, and to either clean and manage their chimneys for birds, or to cap them so the birds aren't trapped or tempted to nest in an unsafe chimney. This photo is of a swift tower that also serves as a nature kiosk just off the parking lot of the main building at Hornsby Bend near Austin, Texas. These tower kiosks make perfect mini-nature centers for parks or schools, where they can host info about local birds and nature, as well as serve as a landmark and meeting place for local bird walks or other activities.
Since wood-burning and chimney use and construction has declined, Chimney Swifts have declined in numbers across much of their range in the Eastern United States. They are considered a priority species for conservation and monitoring by Partners in Flight, the planning organization working to sustain populations of American land birds.
Some of the best info about the birds and what you can do to help them can be found in two Texas A&M Press books recently written by the Kyles. Chimney Swifts covers the biology, life history, and conservation of the birds, while Chimney Swift Towers provides more detailed instructions on how to build artificial structures to attract and help the birds. If you are lucky enough to live in Chimney Swift habitat--and most of us east of the Rockies do, enjoy their aerial chases and courtship flights this month, and take a look to see if there isn't more you can do to encourage "America's mysterious birds above the fireplace".