Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

Chimney Swift

[order] APODIFORMES | [family] Apodidae | [latin] Chaetura pelagica | [UK] Chimney Swift | [FR] Martinet ramoneur | [DE] Schornstein-Segler | [ES] Vencejo de Chimenea (Cl), Vencejo de Chimenea, Vencejo de Paso (Cr) | [NL] Schoorsteengierzwaluw


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

In general, chimney swifts are a dark grayish to brownish-gray, sooty color. Males and females look alike. The tail has stiff bristle-like or spiny feather tips. There may be as many as seven tail spines. They have been described as resembling a “flying cigar”. Chimney swifts have large eyes. They weigh 21.33 g on average. Wing length averages 13 cm and tail length averages 4 cm.

Listen to the sound of Chimney Swift

[audio: Swift.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: cm wingspan max.: cm
size min.: 12 cm size max.: 15 cm
incubation min.: 19 days incubation max.: 21 days
fledging min.: 14 days fledging max.: 21 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 6  


North America : East, Central


In temperate zones, chimney swifts are found most often in areas settled by humans. In the tropics, they are also found near irrigated agricultural lands and areas inhabited by humans. In natural tropical settings, chimney swifts are found at the edge of rivers bordered by forest or the edge of lowland evergreen forests and secondary growth scrub, and even over the Andean valleys in Peru and Ecuador. They can be found at elevations of 2500 m.


The breeding season for chimney swifts is from May to July. Nests are placed in the dark in chimneys and occasionally in hollow trees. The basket-like, half-cup nest consists of sticks and is secured to the wall of a chimney by secreted saliva. It is usually at least 15.5 m off the ground, but this can vary greatly. Three to seven white, somewhat glossy eggs are laid per clutch. Each egg is approximately 2.0 by 1.3 cm. Both parents incubate the eggs, and the incubation period is from 19 to 21 days. Females will cover the eggs or young at night. Nestlings may leave the nest 14 to 19 days after hatching, but the first flight typically occurs 30 days after hatching. Chimney swifts can have more than one brood per season, and will re-nest if the first nest and eggs are destroyed.
Sometimes birds other than the breeding pair will help feed and care for young, a behavior called extra-parental cooperation or cooperative breeding. Chimney swifts are known to form cooperative breeding groups of three to four birds. These groups may remain as a nesting unit throughout the season, sharing incubation, brooding, and feeding duties. Records indicate that one colony had more than one-third of the breeding pairs form cooperative groups; there were 22 threesomes and 6 foursomes.

Feeding habits

Chimney swifts feed exclusively while in flight. They are primarily insectivores. They forage by hovering over tree branches and catching insects in flight; they take a variety of insect and spider prey. Forty to fifty chimney swifts were recorded hovering at the outer branches or diving through the top branches of a sweetgum tree in pursuit of a particular species of weevil.


This species has been uplisted to Near Threatened as survey data has demonstrated that it has undergone a moderately rapid population decline due to loss of nesting habitat. However, trends for three-generation periods ending in 2006, 2007 and 2009 have reached 32%, 31% and 30% respectively, and should these rates of declines continue, the species may be uplisted to Vulnerable.
Chimney Swift status Near Threatened


Present North America Apr-Sept. Migrates through West Indies late Aug to late Oct and mid-Apr to mid-May, through Panama Oct-Nov and in spring throughout Apr, and through Mexico mid-Mar to mid-May and late Aug to early Nov. Present SW Peru Nov-Apr. Recorded mid-Feb to early Mar in coastal cordillera of W Ecuador; may represent spring migratory stopover. Rarely recorded SE Farallon Is, 42 km W of San Francisco, late May to mid-Jun and mid-Sept to early Oct. Vagrant Bermuda, rare but regular, late Mar to late Apr and early Aug to late Dec; Bahamas, late Apr to early May and Oct; Galapagos Is and Greenland. Transatlantic vagrant to Britain, 4 records, late Oct to early Nov, and Tenerife (Canary Is). Probably under-recorded in N South America.

Distribution map

Chimney Swift distribution range map

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