South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Chimney Swift

Chaetura pelagica

Length: 5.5 inches Wingspan: 12 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Gray overall, stubby cigar-shaped body, scimitar-shaped wings

Chimney Swift - Chaetura pelagicaThe Chimney Swift is another bird species which has both benefited, and suffered, due to a human presence.  Chimney Swifts were once dependent upon tree cavities for nesting.  However, introduced species, particularly the House Sparrow and European Starling, have greatly increased competition for natural nesting cavities such as those previously preferred by Chimney Swifts.  However, Chimney Swifts have learned to use chimneys and other human construction for nesting, and are now much more common over urban areas than they are over forested areas.  They use a sticky saliva to glue together twigs, which are pasted on a vertical surface in a half-saucer shape.  Large chimneys may house hundreds of these birds, resulting in spectacular flocks forming overhead near sundown.

Habitat: Feeds in open skies above nearly any terrain. However, with the sharp reduction in mature forests in the East and thus in tree cavity availability, they are now most common over urban areas where they've learned to use buildings for nesting.

Diet: Feeds on flying insects.

Behavior: Forages by capturing insects while in flight.  Gregarious, often foraging (and roosting) in flocks.

Nesting: June and July

Breeding Map: Breeding Bird Survey map

Song: A sharp chip, often repeated in a bold chattering series. Click to listen to the Chimney Swift song.

Migration: Summers throughout the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada.  Winters in eastern Peru and probably elsewhere in the Amazon Basin. 

Similar Species: White-throated Swift

Conservation Status: Overall, has probably benefited from a human presence, as the number of available nesting sites soared once they learned to utilize chimneys.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Chimney Swift

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Cnhimney Swift"

3) eNature.com: Chimney Swift

Photo Information: Photo taken on August 9th, 2012 - Minnehaha County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Chimney Swift - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer resident in the eastern part of the state, rare in the west.