Birds In The Chimney |
Identification, Prevention, & Removal

By Laura Bullard

If you’re hearing rustling and chirping sounds coming from your fireplace, your first guess is likely correct—you have birds in the chimney. Specifically, you may have become the new landlord to a family of chimney swifts.

How to determine what’s living in your chimney

Chimney swifts are harmless, quite helpful to have around (they’re natural pest control agents), and will leave of their own accord. That said, before you decide you’ve become a chimney swift landlord, make sure you’re dealing with swifts and not bats.

  1. Go outside at dusk and observe flight patterns. The easiest way to determine whether you’re dealing with bats or chimney swifts is to see whether they’re coming or going at night. Chimney swifts return home in the evenings to sleep, but bats are nocturnal—if you have bats in your chimney, they’ll be heading out at night to hunt.
  2. Compare the noise you hear to the volume of flying creatures you see. Chimney swifts are noisy, particularly when they’ve just hatched. If you hear a racket, you have either a small family of swifts or a very large number of bats. If you don’t see swarms of bats entering or exiting your chimney, you more than likely have chimney swifts.

If you do indeed have chimney swifts, think twice before you commit to removing your new tenants and don’t remove them yourself. Because chimney swifts are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, you have two legal options.

  1. Wait it out (they are migratory birds and only come to North America during the spring and summer).
  2. Hire a licensed contractor to safely and legally remove the nest.

Options for chimney swift removal

1. Wait it out (recommended)

The easiest and most humane way to deal with chimney swifts is to simply wait until they leave. Here are a few reasons why you should allow these unique creatures to leave your chimney on their own accord.

  1. Loss of habitat—The swifts are living in your chimney because their natural habitat has been destroyed due to deforestation. Because they’re unable to stand upright or perch like most birds, they prefer to make their homes in hollowed out trees. They spend 99% of their time in flight and their claws are suited to clinging only to vertical surfaces. Your chimney is, quite simply, the safest place for swifts to lay their eggs.
  2. Chimney swifts need your chimney only during the warmest months—Because they’re migratory birds, chimney swifts come to North America during the spring and return to South America by early November. They don’t like the cold, so they’ll be out of your chimney by the time you’re ready to use your fireplace.
  3. Chimney swifts are great pest control—They technically feed on bugs’ wings, and will eat flies, bees, wasps, ants, flying spiders, and many other winged creatures that you most definitely do not want in your chimney. According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, “The swift acts as a highly efficient natural pest-control agent, which should be a welcome summer visitor to anyone’s home.”

2. Pursue removal

For some, the incredible noise generated by a family of baby chimney swifts is simply intolerable. In this case, you may want to pursue removal. Be warned: chimney swifts are a protected species, so removal is not as easy as it seems. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t remove them yourself—Chimney swifts are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This means that it’s illegal to move, transport, or disturb them (or their nests and eggs). If you have chimney swifts living in your chimney, even lighting a fire in your fireplace is illegal.
  2. Don’t call a chimney sweep—Standard chimney sweep services are rarely licensed to remove chimney swifts.
  3. Do call your local animal control—They can direct you to a wildlife rehabilitator or relocator that’s licensed for chimney swift removal at both the state and federal level. This is your only legal option when it comes to removal.

Preventing nesting Installing chimney caps after the birds have left their nests for the year is the best way to prevent their return to your home

Preparing for or preventing their return

Because the birds in your chimney are migratory, they will return every year. Whether you want to maintain a symbiotic relationship with the birds or you’d like for them to find a new home, it’s best to be prepared.

If you don’t mind them, simply leave your chimney as is

An annual cleaning should be enough to keep your chimney habitable. They chose it for a reason and you’ll more than likely see the exact same family in around six months—chimney swifts typically mate for life.

If you would prefer they not return at all, install a chimney cap

A chimney cap is a wire cages that surround the top of your chimney. Be mindful, if the swifts have already chosen your home, you have a only few months of the year during which you can install your cap without disturbing them. Installation must take place during the winter, when the swifts are still in South America.

If you don’t want them in your chimney but you still want them to return, build a chimney swift tower

You can apply for grants and partner with a local nature center or conservation groups to cover the costs of building a chimney swift tower. This is a great way to reap the pest control benefits of having chimney swifts around without having to open your home.

Above Chimney swift tower

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