Vol. 2, No. 4 – The Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift of Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Chimney Swift of Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

From col. Eugene Bliss. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.


HIEF POKAGON, of the Pottawattamie Indians, in an article in The Osprey, writes delightfully of the Chimney Swift, and we quote a portion of it describing a peculiar habit of the bird. The chief was a youth when he made the observation, and he writes in the second person:

“As you look, you see the head of the young chief is turning slowly around, watching something high in air above the stream; you now begin to look in the same direction, catching glimpses every now and then, of the segment of a wild revolving ring of small unnumbered birds circling high above the trees. Their twittering notes and whizzing wings create a musical, but wild, continued roar. You now begin to realize he is determined to understand all about the feathered bees, as large as little birds, the village boy had seen. The circle continues to decrease in size, but increases the revolution until all the living, breathing ring swings over the stream in the field of your vision, and you begin to enquire what means all this mighty ingathering of such multitude of birds. The young chief in admiration claps his hands, leaping towards the stream. The twittering, whizzing roar continues to increase; the revolving circle fast assumes a funnel shape, moving downward until the point reaches the hollow in the stub, pouring its living mass therein until the last bird dropped out of sight. Rejoicing in wonder and admiration, the youth walks round the base of the stub, listening to the rumbling roar of fluttering wings within. Night comes on, he wraps his blanket closer about him, and lies down to rest until the coming day, that he may witness the swarming multitudes pass out in early morning. But not until the hour of midnight does he fall asleep, nor does he wake until the dawn of day, when, rising to his feet, he looks upward to the skies. One by one the stars disappear. The moon grows pale. He listens. Last night’s familiar roar rings in his ears. He now beholds swarming from out the stub the living, breathing mass, forming in funnel shape, revolving like a top, rising high in air, then sweeping outward into a wide expanding ring, until the myriads of birds are scattered wide, like leaves before the whirlwind.”

And then what do they do? Open the mouth of a swallow that has been flying, and turn out the mass of small flies and other insects that have been collected there. The number packed into its mouth is almost incredible, for when relieved from the constant pressure to which it is subjected, the black heap begins to swell and enlarge, until it attains nearly double its former size.

Chimney Swallow is the name usually applied to this Swift. The habit of frequenting chimneys is a recent one, and the substitution of this modern artificial home for hollow trees illustrates the readiness with which it adapts itself to a change in surroundings. In perching, they cling to the side of the chimney, using the spine-pointed tails for a support. They are most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when one may hear their rolling twitter as they course about overhead.

The question whether Chimney Swifts break off twigs for their nests with their feet is now being discussed by ornithologists. Many curious and interesting observations have been made, and the momentous question will no doubt in time be placed beyond peradventure.


CHIMNEY SWIFT.Chætura pelagica. Other name: “Chimney Swallow.”

Range—Eastern North America; breeds from Florida to Labrador; winters in Central America.

Nest—A bracket-like basket of dead twigs glued together with saliva, attached to the wall of a chimney, generally about ten feet from the top, by the gummy secretions of the bird’s salivary glands.

Eggs—Four to six, white.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) ©WikiC

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) ©WikiC

Lee’s Addition:

“Even the stork in the heavens Knows her appointed times; And the turtledove, the swift, and the swallow Observe the time of their coming. But My people do not know the judgment of the LORD. (Jer 8:7 NKJV)

The Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) is a bird belonging to the swift family. It commonly nests in chimneys in eastern North America, and migrates in large flocks to northwestern South America for the winter. It is also one of the Bible Birds. They belong to the Apodidae – Swifts Family which has 105 species. The Apodidae is part of the  APODIFORMES Order.

This is a medium-sized swift, measuring from 4.7 to 5.9 in (12 to 15 cm) in length, with a wingspan of 11 to 12 in (27 to 30 cm) and a weight ranging from 0.60 to 1.1 oz (17 to 30 g).[15] The sexes are identical in plumage, though males average slightly heavier than females. The adult’s plumage is a dark sooty olive above and grayish brown below, with a slightly paler rump and uppertail covert feathers, and a significantly paler throat. Its upperparts are the most uniformly colored of all the Chaetura swifts, showing little contrast between back and rump. Its beak is black, as are its feet and legs. Its iris is dark brown.

The Chimney Swift’s wings are slender, curved and long, extending beyond the bird’s tail when folded. Its wingtips are pointed, which helps to decrease air turbulence (and therefore drag) during flight. In flight, it holds its wings stiffly, alternating between rapid, quivering flaps and longer glides. Its flight profile is widely described as a “cigar with wings”—a description first used by Roger Tory Peterson. Although the bird often appears to beat its wings asynchronously during flight, photographic and stroboscopic studies have shown that it beats them in unison. The illusion that it does otherwise is heightened by its very fast and highly erratic flight, with many rapid changes of direction.

The legs of the Chimney Swift, like those of all swifts, are very short. Its feet are small but strong, with very short toes that are tipped with sharp, curved claws. The toes are anisodactyl—three forward, one back—like those of most birds, but the Chimney Swift can swivel its back toe (its hallux) forward to help it get a better grip. Unlike the legs and feet of most birds, those of the Chimney Swift have no scales; instead, they are covered with smooth skin.

Its tail is short and square. All ten of its tail feathers have shafts ending in sharp, stiff points. These help the bird to prop itself against vertical surfaces.

The Chimney Swift has large, deep set eyes. These are protected by small patches of coarse, black, bristly feathers, which are located in front of each eye. The swift can change the angle of these feathers, which may help to reduce glare. It is far-sighted and, like some birds of prey, has two fovea that help to make its vision especially acute. Like most vertebrates, it is able to focus both eyes at once; however, it is also able to focus a single eye independently.

Its bill is very small, and its gape is huge, extending back below its eyes, and allowing the bird to open its mouth very widely. Unlike many insectivorous birds, it lacks rictal bristles at the base of the beak.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) at nest ©WikiC

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) at nest ©WikiC

The Chimney Swift is a gregarious species, and is seldom seen alone. It generally hunts in groups of two or three, migrates in loose flocks of 6–20, and (once the breeding season is over) sleeps in huge communal roosts of hundreds or thousands of birds. Like all swifts, it is a superb aerialist, and only rarely seen at rest. It drinks on the wing, skimming the surface of the water with its beak. It also bathes on the wing, gliding above the surface of a body of water, briefly smacking its breast into the water, then flying off again, shaking its feathers as it goes. It is incapable of perching; instead, it clings to vertical surfaces. If it is disturbed while at rest, the Chimney Swift will clap its wings loudly once or twice against its body; it does this either in place, or while dropping down several feet to a lower location. This behavior can result in a loud “thundering” sound if large roosts of the birds are disturbed. The sound is thought to be the bird’s way of scaring away potential predators. (Wikipedia with editing)


Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for October 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – Shore Lark

The Previous Article – American Goldfinch


ABC’s of the Gospel



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