In the News

WANTED: Allegheny County Chimney Swift Watchers

August 23, 2017

Have you seen the tube shaped birds soaring around the Allegheny County Parks at dusk?
The Allegheny County Parks Foundation and Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania need your help!

You may have noticed the wooden boxes installed in the Allegheny County Parks with narrow rectangular chutes coming out of the top. If you thought these structures resembled chimneys, you are correct. But what is the purpose of artificial chimneys in the middle of a field? Thanks to a joint effort between the Allegheny County Parks Foundation and the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, our nine county parks now are home to 72 Chimney Swift towers, providing habitats for these unique birds.


 What is a Chimney Swift?
Chimney Swifts are the only bird from the swift family regularly seen in the eastern part of the United States. Chimney Swifts visit Western Pennsylvania in April and spend quite a bit of time in the area before heading back south in November. They get their name from their preferred home: chimneys! They feast on flying, swarming insects and constantly exit and enter the homes to bring insects back to feed their young. You will see them acrobatically swooping down onto their prey and constantly entering and exiting their tower home. 

DID YOU KNOW? Each Chimney Swift will eat 1/3 of their body weight in insects per day!

Why Are Chimney Swift Towers Important?
Chimney Swifts nest in very specific habitats. These birds build nests in well shaded, hollow structures such as hollow trees or open chimneys. The Audubon Society’s Chimney Swift towers provide ideal conditions for the birds to nest while educating the community on a unique species of bird. They are still relatively common, but have experienced a steep decline in numbers over the last 50 years. A major factor in this is new designs for chimneys on homes and more homeowners capping the tops of their chimneys. The 12-foot tall towers in the Allegheny County parks give displaced birds a place to call home during the summer months. 

How Do I Observe Chimney Swifts?
We need your help to observe Chimney Swifts and track information about them! They are not too shy around humans, so feel free to bring a lawn chair and relax for a while! The birds will be seen flying around their nesting towers hunting insects. They will frequently be going in and out of the top, as they must take insects inside to their nest.

Here are some important things to note if you see a Chimney Swift:

- The tower number, printed on the side panels of the tower
- The date
- The time
- Approximately how many birds you see
- Any noises around or in the chimney
- Anything else that catches your attention throughout the observation!

You aren’t done, yet! Once you have this information, report your findings to the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania’s website. This valuable data will contribute to bird conservation efforts in our area. Click here for the form to report your sightings!

Here is an example of a tower number, located on the side of a Chimney Swift Tower. Don't forget to mark this down while you observe!

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