Coming to the Aid of Adult and Juvenile Chimney Swifts
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
While Chimney Swifts like to inhabit chimneys, they never have any intention of entering living rooms. However, accidents do happen.
If a Chimney Swift does manage to slip past the damper and end up in the fireplace, it is important to determine if the bird is an adult or a juvenile. An adult will usually be able to free itself with just a little assistance from the homeowner. An older juvenile may look very similar to an adult, but will not be able to survive if improperly handled.
Adults will have very long wings that cross noticeably over the tail when the bird is at rest. Adults are also usually silent when trapped and confronted by people. Juvenile swifts’ wings are shorter than the body, and the youngsters will be very vocal when approached. They will either complain loudly with their alarm call or make the begging call – expecting to be fed.
An adult will instinctively attempt to escape the fireplace by flying toward the room – where there is the most light. If the bird is contained in the fireplace by glass doors or a fire screen, it can usually be persuaded to fly back up the chimney. To accomplish this, completely cover the front of the fireplace with a dark blanket. Darken the room by closing all shades and drapes, and turn off all lights. The swift will be drawn to the light coming down the chimney, and will be able to find its’ way back out. Once the bird has left, make certain that the area above the fireplace is closed off by the damper or a wedge of foam rubber.
If a swift has not found its way up the chimney after an hour or does manage to find its’ way into the house, it may need to be hand-captured. To accomplish this; seal off the room where the swift is found. Cover all windows and darken the room. If possible, open a single door or window that leads to the outside, and the swift will be drawn toward the light.
If it is necessary to hand-capture a Chimney Swift, wait until the bird has come to rest on a vertical surface. Quickly but gently cup a hand over the bird’s back – holding it to the surface on which it is clinging. Gently close your hand around the swift by working your fingers between the bird and its’ roosting surface. The swift will usually take hold of your hand. A Chimney Swift will not bite or scratch when captured, but do not be startled by the strength of its grip. With your free hand, carefully work loose any claws that are still clinging to the surface.
If there is any doubt whether a captured swift is a juvenile or an adult, it is best to return it to the chimney rather than releasing it outside. If a young Chimney Swift is released outside before it is completely mature, it will not survive. The parent birds will not be able to find and feed their babies anywhere outside of the original nest chimney. To replace the bird from below, reach above the damper and hold the bird against the wall of the chimney until it has a good grasp of the wall. Slowly remove your hand and then slowly close the damper. To replace a bird from above, reach as far down into the chimney as possible before placing the bird against the inside of the chimney wall. Hold your hand cupped over the bird until you are certain that it has a firm hold. Then slowly remove you hand and back away from the chimney. Do not stay on the roof, because that will frighten the parents and prevent them from entering and caring for their young.
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