Sunday, August 7, 2011

Day 287/365 The Nursery

Look carefully behind the lampshades, lamps needing re-wiring, antique spool cabinet, and overflowing bookcase, all the way to the ledge of white brick (the one with the Lurch hand on one end and giant books on the other end, right under the framed Lady of the Lake painting).

That white ledge is actually our fireplace mantle (our only working fireplace in our 1858 home). Presently it has gas logs which have been used exactly twice in fourteen years (global warming being what it is and Virginia being hot as Hades).

More importantly, this summer, it is The Nursery.

Yes, our 1858 chimney has been adopted by a community of chimney swifts and it sounds like there are hundreds in there.

Mama builts a nest out of twigs and saliva, and somehow it clings to the vertical surface. They prefer hollowed out trees as nesting sites, but with so much human development the swifts have evolved to include brick and mortar chimneys, meaning primarily old chimneys like mine, since modern chimneys tend to be metal lined or capped. Metal linings mean the babies can't cling to the sides, and they slide and fall to the bottom and starve to death. A capped chimney completely blocks access.

Babies are tiny, naked and pink. Kindof like humans.

Teenagers hang on the sides of the chimneys, chattering and begging for food, preening and showing off their wings. Again, much like humans.

And about two weeks after the chattering begins, mama takes them out for their first night flight, and they spend the evening cruising the loop around their nesting spot. A couple nights later, they begin to visit other nests, and eventually a huge flock of swifts will dance in the night sky.

You may wonder why I'm delighted to have chimney swifts in our house.

First, each chimney swift eats up to 12,000 insects a day. They love mosquitoes, gnats,and other flying insects. Every time mama comes back to the nest she carries approximately 600 insects in her mouth to hand off to the babies. Fortunately, their feeding season has come after the firefly season, otherwise we'd have issues.

Second, chimney swifts are a protected species under the Migratory Bird Act. These guys are on vacation from the Amazon Basin in Peru and it's a violation of federal law to take down their nests or interfere with their babies.

Not that I would do that. I've gotten use to the chattering in the chimney - they seem to love TV, and comment endlessly on it. The dogs have quit staring at the fireplace. The cats are disgusted.

But the third reason I'm delighted to have the swifts as houseguests is mostly because I'm so damned happy they aren't bats.

***Obvious note: Except for the first photo, these photos are not mine. For one thing, it's apparent I can't get anywhere near my fireplace. Also, my house has an extremely steep roof, and I'm not about to climb it just to use a zoom lens to take photos of the swifts, who would probably swarm out and knock me off the roof anyways. Happily for me, someone else did, and I do appreciate that. And I hope they survived.


  1. Susan the Neon NurseAugust 7, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    We sometimes have birds nesting in our wall, beside where an AC unit is installed. I kind of like to hear them. Had to block it off because Bonus figured out how to stick his arm in from our side and claw back pieces of sticks!

  2. Hey Carole! Interesting info about Swifts. Do you think they will return to your chimney next year since they found a friendly summer home there this year? I'm w/ you on the bats - even w/ all the sad stories about the devastating white nose disease, they still give me the shivers!:) Love those floor lamps! Be sure & post pics w/ the lampshades you choose.
    Have a great day!

  3. Yeah, bat fan that I am, I like them better when they have their own cave. Plus their droppings carry something called histoplasmis (probably misspelled) that floats in the air. Don't need that. I really hope these swifts come back next year, I've otten reather attached to them chattering away in the chimney.