What to Do With a Fallen Chimney Swift Nest
An excerpt from the book
Chimney Swifts: North America’s Mysterious Birds Above the Fireplace
by Georgean Z. Kyle and Paul D. Kyle
Texas A & M University Press
Keeping a chimney clean and the damper closed will eliminate most of the problems that arise between people and Chimney Swifts. But in spite of our best efforts, there will still be occasions when a nest will fall and very young Chimney Swifts will end up in the fireplace where the parents are unable to care for them. The babies all may desperately cling to the nest, or may be found crawling blindly across the living room floor. Our hearts will go out to these helpless waifs, and we will be tempted to try to feed and care for them ourselves. However, wildlife rehabilitators will insist that it is always best to reunite wild baby birds with their parents – whatever the species. Because of their specific diet, handling and housing requirements, this is particularly true with baby Chimney Swifts.
Chimney Swifts nest in inaccessible places, and this makes returning the babies to their parents an exceptional challenge. If the babies are feathered they can be placed on the wall above the damper as previously described. Make certain the damper is closed so they do not fall into the fireplace again. If they are not completely feathered or their eyes are not open, the process of returning the young to their parents will be considerably more difficult.
Because the designs of fireplaces and chimneys are so diverse, there is no single solution that will be appropriate in every instance of a fallen nest. Replacing the nest may require considerable innovation, and may not actually be possible. However, there are several options that should be explored. The most important thing to remember is that if the babies are not replaced in the original nest chimney – in approximately the original position in the chimney -- the parents will be unable to feed them. At the very least, the nest must be replaced above the damper in the lower section of the chimney.
One option is to place the nest in a shallow wicker basket and place it on the smoke shelf just above the damper. It must be either weighted or wedged in such a way that when the parents land on it to feed their young it does not tip over. Some rescuers have placed the nest in a basket and lowered it into the chimney from above. Others have had good results taping the nest to a broom and wedging the broom in a corner of the chimney above the damper.
If it is impossible to return young Chimney Swifts to their parents, they will need to be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. In the interim, providing proper temporary housing is essential. Because of their lifestyle, Chimney Swifts need to be able to cling to a stable surface to feel secure. The babies will need to be placed in an artificial nest consisting of a small covered box that is lined with a snag-free cloth. The birds’ claws may become tangled in loosely woven fabrics like terrycloth. An old cotton T-shirt works very well. Do not attempt to feed or give water to baby Chimney Swifts. They are reasonably durable, and can fare very well if kept warm, dark and quiet until they can be taken to a qualified caregiver. However, the sooner they receive care, the more likely they will be to survive the ordeal of being separated from their parents. Your state Parks and Wildlife Department, Game Warden or Department of Natural Resources should be able to help you find an individual or facility that can help.
Authors’ note: Chimney Swifts are protected by state and federal law, and a permit from both agencies is required to care for them. Hand-rearing Chimney Swifts is extremely difficult, and has been known to bring even the most accomplished wildlife rehabilitators to their knees.
For a complete careguide on caring for Chimney Swifts see:
Rehabilitation and Conservation of Chimney Swifts