Chimney SwiftChaetura pelagica (Linnaeus)
Status Uncommon in summer. Breeds. It generally arrives in early May (average 6 May, earliest normal date 29 April; five on 22 April 1977 were three weeks ahead of next arrivals). Although there are scattered colonies in artificial structures from Yarmouth to Cape Breton Island, the only major one is in Wolfville, where 382 were counted entering a large, unused chimney on the campus of Acadia University at dusk on 22 May 1983. However, Helen and Hubert Hall note that Yarmouth County in 1984 had "many this summer, always on backwoods roads, far from chimneys," and this may be true in other localities. First migrants may appear in late July in areas where they had not nested, but the peak of movement occurs in late August or early September. An estimated 2,000 were over Brier Island on 24 August 1965 (W. Lent). Most are gone by the end of September, but stragglers occur later (since 1960, average 4 October, latest 1 November; the latest ever was over Wolfville on 10 November 1948).
Description Length: 13-14 cm. Adults: Sooty brown above and below; lighter on throat and breast; black spot in front of eye. Shafts of tail feathers extend beyond vanes.
Breeding Nest: A cup-shaped bracket of fine twigs securely fastened together with the bird's glue-like saliva; always unlined. It was customary for them to glue these bracket nests to the perpendicular inside walls of large hollow trees, and in some parts of their breeding range they still do, but more recently they have largely forsaken tree sites for man's evil-smelling chimneys. Occasionally they resort to old, abandoned shacks standing in remote areas, where they fasten the nest to the inside wall. One nest I discovered at Albany, Annapolis County, was placed in an unused, rock-lined well. It was glued to the side of a protruding rock about 1m below ground and about 1 m above water.
Eggs: 4-6; white. In fresh eggs the albumen has a peculiar glue-like texture that makes it difficult for an oologist to prepare specimens. They are rather late nesters. One seen breaking a twig from a tall dead branch on 29 May 1943 near Wolfville was engaged in nest construction, but laying does not usually begin until late June. On 24 July 1924 at Black River Lake, Kings County, a nest containing four fresh eggs was examined. The nest was stuck to the inside wall of an abandoned mill about 2 m above the floor, entrance having been made through an unglazed window. On 15 August 1940 a fledgling that had fallen from a nest in a chimney was picked up alive on the hearth below.
Range Breeds from eastern Saskatchewan east to southern Quebec and Nova Scotia and south to the Gulf States. Winters in the upper Amazon drainage.
Remarks These little speedsters racing across our summer skies have until recent years kept their winter homes secret. In 1944, through bird-banding, the mystery was solved. Thirteen, marked with numbered leg-bands that were attached in previous summers while the birds were in North America, were caught by Indians living in a wild, remote district of northeastern Peru, some 350 km south of the equator.
Bird-banding has also given us factual information regarding how long Chimney Swifts live. One adult banded at Kingston, Ontario, on 7 June 1929 was recaptured at the same place 11 years later, on 19 May 1940.
Here is a bird that never voluntarily touches the ground. Its food is taken on the wing; it sleeps clinging to a perpendicular wall of wood or stone; it gathers nesting material while hovering by snapping off small, brittle twigs from high, dead branches; and when thirsty it flies close to the surface of the water, skimming it lightly with its open bill. Charles R.K. Allen tells of having seen a pair copulating while in flight.
Its manner of flight is so characteristic that it is not likely to be confused with any other Nova Scotia bird.
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