Throughout my three months at the Wildlife Center of Virginia in the summer of 2016, I noticed that the sounds of ICU changed with the seasons. During my first few weeks, the sound of cheeping, hungry, and impatient baby birds created its own odd harmony. When I left the Center in mid-September, the squirrels chattered away to each other in a not-so-melodic fashion. However, some patients sound tremendously different than the cacophony of background noise that typically fills the room. Chimney swifts produce a loud and alarming sound that combines cricket chirps and screeching metal-on-metal (listen to their strange noises here).
In addition to their rather interesting calls, chimney swifts distinguish themselves from other birds by perching on vertical surfaces rather than on horizontal ones. Before forests were cleared and when the American population was a fraction of what it is today, chimney swifts roosted and nested in hollow trees. As their natural habitat was destroyed, these swifts adapted to man-made chimneys in such a swift (pun intended) fashion that “chimney” was implemented into their name.
Similar to most of the songbirds we care for at the Center, we are working to conserve the decreasing population of chimney swifts. At the beginning of my externship, we attempted to cater to the chimney swifts' tendency to perch vertically by placing them in a tall basket lined with a towel. While the high walls of the basket provided a vertical surface, the set-up was a far stretch from the substrates the birds typically use for perching in the wild. In addition, the Center had limited outdoor housing to accommodate a chimney swift. Knowing my crafty carpenter of a grandfather was visiting me in a couple of weeks, the ideas started flowing.
Using drawings and advice provided by rehabilitation intern and chimney swift enthusiast Elise Gundlach, my grandfather and I spent a day at the Center creating housing for fledgling and adult chimney swifts. Essentially, grooves are carved into a box-like structure to mimic the chimney swift’s natural, vertical perch. This project enabled us to create housing that the Center did not yet have. In the future, these chimney swift towers will allow the Center to give more species-specific care to chimney swifts, keep them in our care for a longer period of time, and, hopefully, improve the success of these birds once they are released into the wild.
For information on how you can install and build chimney swift towers on your property and contribute to the conservation of chimney swifts, visit:
Bring on the swifts!
WCV Class of 2016