Chimney Swifts – A Great Neighbor

by

Jean Kastanek

I recently read a really interesting book, Chimney Swifts:  America’s Mysterious Birds above the Fireplace (ISBN-13: 978-1585443727). In this book, Paul and Georgean Kyle tell the story of their journey rehabilitating native wildlife. When the Kyles moved to Austin in 1973 to begin construction of their home on newly-purchased land, they had no idea that the direction of their lives was about to change—all because of a bird.

Their eight-acre parcel of land was full of life. The Kyles frequently came across injured animals and fallen nestlings. Before they knew it, their new home was full of incubators, cages, and a fenced garden to accommodate the injured animals.  The Kyles soon applied for and received their state and federal permits to rehabilitate protected native wildlife.

They were introduced to their first Chimney Swift at the Travis County Humane Society in 1983.  The bird had collided with a window and was unable to fly. Then they received a box of orphaned baby swifts, and, in their own words, they “fell in love”. They spent the next twenty-plus years rehabilitating, observing and documenting the behaviors of Chimney Swifts on their property.

Their research during this time revealed that the Chimney Swift population had declined by over fifty-five percent in North America from 1966 through 1991.   Chimney Swift populations continue to decline, due to public ignorance about the birds (many people are not aware that Chimney Swifts are protected by state wildlife codes and federal law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916.).

They describe the home and social lives of Chimney Swifts, noting that the birds are devoted mates and parents. They discuss the reasons these birds nest and roost in chimneys.  Perhaps most fascinating is that in mid-March every year, Chimney Swifts migrate from Peru, Chile, and Brazil to the United States and Canada to breed and raise their families.  They return to their winter homes in September and October.

Why should we care about these birds in particular?  They eat up to nearly one-third their own weight in flying insects such as mosquitoes, biting flies, and termites.  Why not erect Chimney Swift towers in our communities, instead of spraying chemicals to kill mosquitoes?

In addition to this book, the Kyles have also written Chimney Swift Towers:  New Habitat for America’s Mysterious Birds.  Further efforts to educate the public about these birds include creating the 10-acre Travis Audubon Chaetura Canyon Bird Sanctuary on their property, 20 miles from downtown Austin.

Chimney Swifts, America’s Mysterious Birds above the Fireplace is so much more than an informational text.  It is the story of a couple of toymakers (yes, they earned their living by selling wooden toys in a shop in Austin) who fell in love with a bird and became passionate about its survival.  By sharing their knowledge with us, they empower us to do something as well.  For example, I see a Master Naturalist project here:  building Chimney Swift towers in our communities.  I also see a possible trip next spring to Chaetura Canyon.   Anyone want to join me?

Do you think nature should be part of our everyday life, not just somewhere to go on the weekends?  You are invited to attend our free, open-to-the-public, monthly program on the fourth Monday of the month at 7 pm at the Red Oak Library, 200 Lakeview Pkwy, Red Oak, TX.  For more information on the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or visit our website at https://txmn.org/indiantrail/.

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