Chimney Swift
Chaetura pelagica
The Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) is a nesting resident across the eastern two-thirds of the United States and parts of eastern Canada. The species usually nests in chimneys, thus the name. It builds a tiny nest of sticks which is attached to the inside of a chimney with a glue-like saliva substance which the bird produces. The species winters in South America. This small, fast-moving swift is a challenge to photograph. The first two shots here were taken in Austin, Travis Co., Texas,in May, 2007, with a Canon EOS 1D Mark II and EF 600mm F/4 L IS lens and 1.4X extender.
Chimney Swifts are so named because they normally nest inside Chimneys. Their nest is built of tiny twigs which the adults build using saliva to hold the sticks together. The saliva hardens to form a sort of glue which both holds the nest together and keeps it attached to the inside of the chimney. Before man came along, Chimney Swifts apparently nested in hollow trees and certainly some still use these traditional nesting sites. On occasion Chimney Swifts will select a nesting site other than a hollow tree or a chimney. In June, 2008, while on a photography trip in east Texas, I saw Chimney Swifts using a nesting location I had never seen before...an outside wall of a rural motel! The motel owners alerted me to the fact that a pair of swifts had nested in a shady outside hallway of their motel for more than a decade! Sure enough, the tiny nest containing six young was quite visible in a mostly dark exterior hallway of the motel and I was able to get a number of images of the nest, the adults, and the adults feeding the young. These images were all taken with a Canon EOS 1D Mark III and EF 300mm F/4 L IS lens and flash.
Chimney Swifts do not perch on a tree limb like many other small birds. Their feet are designed so that they may hang on the inside of a hollow tree,or a chimney. Thus, when at the nest, the adult uses its claws to hold itself on the wooden wall aided by their stiff tail feathers. The last shot on the right in the series of 4 images just below shows a parent with a bulging throat full of food to feed the young. Thanks to my friends Paul and Georgean Kyle, experts on Chimney Swifts, for pointing that out.
The adults did not seem to mind me taking pictures of them or their nest. They would come and go while I stood 6 feet away. The young birds were just starting to grow feathers. In these shots of the nest, the glue-like hardened saliva which holds the nest together and holds it to the wall may be seen.
The sequence below shows an adult feeing one of the baby birds in the nest.
As an aside, a friend visited this nest about 2 weeks after these shots were taken. The young birds were still at the nest, but were within a day, perhaps hours, of fledging. These adults successfully reared their young on this motel wall.
An adult perched on the wall near the nest. The claws of the bird hook into the grain of the wood while the stiff tail feathers also help it retain its perch.