Scientific Name: Chaetura pelagica
Taxonomy Group: Birds
COSEWIC Range: Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: April 2018
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2bce+4bce
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This aerial insectivore is a long-distance migrant, breeding in central and eastern Canada and wintering in South America. It has experienced a long-term population decline of close to 90% since 1970 in areas outside towns and cities, including a reduction of 49% over the past three generations (14 years). However, most roost counts in towns and urban areas show relatively stable numbers. A significant cause of decline is the reduced availability of aerial insects, likely due to the effects of agricultural and other pesticides, changing agricultural practices, and broad-scale ecosystem modifications in much of its breeding, migratory and wintering range. Reduced availability of roosting and nesting sites in chimneys and similar human-made structures, and in large hollow trees, is also likely contributing to declines. Greater frequency and severity of weather extremes may be reducing productivity, and increasing mortality during migration.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 2007. Status re-examined and confirmed in April 2018.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2009-03-05
Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.
Sometimes mistaken for a swallow, the Chimney Swift is readily distinguished by its cigar-shaped body; long, narrow, pointed wings; unique call; short tail; and quick, jerky flight, similar to that of the bat. Its folded wings project considerably beyond the spiny-looking tail. This is a small bird with dark brown, slightly iridescent plumage. The throat is brownish grey. There are no significant differences between the male and the female, and juveniles and adults have similar plumage.
Distribution and Population
The Chimney Swift breeds mainly in eastern North America, from southern Canada down to Texas and Florida. It occasionally breeds in southern California and possibly in Arizona. Chimney Swifts winter in the upper Amazon basin in South America (mainly in Peru), southern and northeastern Ecuador, northwestern Brazil, and northern Chile. Approximately one quarter of this species’ breeding range is in Canada. The species breeds in east central Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, southern Ontario, southern Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and possibly in Prince Edward Island and southwestern Newfoundland. The Canadian Chimney Swift population is estimated at 11 820 breeding individuals: 2520 in Quebec, 7500 in Ontario, 900 in the Maritimes, and 900 in the other provinces. Chimney Swift populations are declining in all areas of occurrence. Data from the Breeding Bird Survey indicate that the Canadian population has been declining by 7.8% per year since 1968, which represents a total decline of 95%. From 1966 to 2002, there has been a significant downward trend of the American population in more than half of the states where data are available.
The Chimney Swift spends the major part of the day in flight feeding on insects. Flocks can often be seen near bodies of water due to the abundance of insects. Prior to the arrival of European settlers in North America, Chimney Swifts nested mainly in the trunks of large, hollow trees, and occasionally on cave walls or in rocky crevices. However, due to the land clearing associated with colonization, hollow trees became increasingly rare, which led Chimney Swifts to move into house chimneys. Today, the species is mainly associated with urban and rural areas where the birds can find chimneys to use as nesting and resting sites. However, it is likely that a small portion of the population continues to use hollow trees. In the northern part of the breeding range, the Chimney Swift favours sites where the ambient temperature is relatively stable. The Chimney Swift’s winter habitat includes forests along the water’s edge, the edges of tropical lowland forests, regenerating shrub areas, farmland, suburban areas and city centre zones. It roosts in chimneys, crevices and caves, as well as in the hollow trees that are plentiful in the Amazon forest.
The Chimney Swift is an extremely gregarious species that feeds and rests in large flocks. This insectivore spends a great deal of time in flight in order to catch its tiny prey. It only returns to solid ground to sleep in its roost or to build a nest and raise its young. While each chimney generally houses a single couple, larger chimneys often serve as roosting sites before or after breeding. Many well-known roosting sites attract numerous admirers who come to enjoy the show as hundreds of birds enter these chimneys at sunset. The Chimney Swift is monogamous and does not generally breed until its second year. Couples usually remain together for life and return each year to the same breeding site. The Chimney Swift uses its glutinous saliva to build a half-saucer-shaped nest from twigs, which it cements to a vertical chimney surface. There are generally four or five eggs per clutch. In Canada, a single clutch is produced annually. Males and females incubate the eggs together for approximately 20 days. Fledging success is quite high, reaching an average of three juveniles per nest. The average lifespan of the Chimney Swift is 4.6 years, although the known longevity record for this species is 14 years. Given that this bird spends the major part of its time in flight and that its nesting and roosting sites are hard to reach, the Chimney Swift is virtually beyond the reach of predators. In the fall, large Chimney Swift flocks head for the southern United States; they then cross the Gulf of Mexico and fly along the Atlantic coast until they reach South America where they winter. In the spring, they essentially follow the same route back and arrive in the southern United States around mid-March.
The most significant threats to the Chimney Swift population appear to be the decreasing number of nesting and roosting sites caused by logging operations, the demolition of old abandoned buildings and, especially, the sharp decline in the number of suitable and accessible traditional chimneys, which are this species’ main breeding habitat. The growing popularity of electric and gas heating, the renovation of old traditional chimneys, and new fire prevention regulations (installation of metal liners in brick chimneys, and installation of fire-screens, caps and mesh covers to keep animals out of chimneys) have resulted in a decrease in the number of traditional chimneys that could be used by Chimney Swifts. Every indication is that very few suitable sites will remain within the next thirty years. The number of breeding sites in Quebec is limited, and it is estimated that only 60% of breeding-age adults actually reproduce; in all likelihood, the situation is the same elsewhere in Canada. In its South American wintering area, the species is threatened by intensive logging operations and by the fires that ravage the Amazon forest and destroy the hollow trees this bird favours. Hurricanes during the Chimney Swift migration period and harsh weather conditions during breeding season have caused considerable deaths. Certain climate models suggest the possibility that such extreme weather events may become increasingly frequent in years to come. Other threats to this species include chimney sweeping during the summer (breeding season), the spraying of pesticides, and the tendency of building owners to destroy Chimney Swift nests in their chimneys. Although building owners fear that nests could cause chimney fires, they are not a fire hazard, since the birds simply cling to chimney walls during the night and leave the roost in the morning. The nests are very small and cannot block a chimney.
The Chimney Swift is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
The Chimney Swift is protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. This law makes it an offence to disturb, kill or collect adults, juveniles and eggs. On American soil, the species is also protected under the United States’ Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
Contact Person for Recovery Planning
Québec: Unité de planification de la conservation - Service canadien de la faune - Chair/Contact -
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
35 record(s) found.
- Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Status Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (2 record(s) found.)
- Action Plans (6 record(s) found.)
- Orders (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Permits and Related Agreements (15 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (2 record(s) found.)
- Factsheet (1 record(s) found.)
- Recovery Document Posting Plans (1 record(s) found.)
Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation
COSEWIC Status Reports
Response Statement - Chimney Swift (2007-12-04)The Canadian population of this species has declined by almost 30% over the last three generations (13.5 years) and the area it occupies has declined by a third over the same time period. The estimated Canadian population is about 12,000 individuals. Many aerial insectivores, including this species, swallows and nighthawks, have suffered population declines throughout the Americas over the past 30 years. The causes for these widespread declines are unknown but likely involve impacts to insect populations through pesticide use and habitat loss. Of this species group, the current species has had the most serious known decline, probably because of the steadily decreasing number of suitable chimneys that the swifts use for nesting and roosting. Very few natural sites (large hollow trees) exist and current forest management regimes make it unlikely that many more will be available in the future. The species also experiences significant mortality when hurricanes cross migratory paths; this could become a more important source of population loss if the frequency of these storms increase in the future as some climate models suggest
Response Statement - Chimney Swift (2019-01-11)This aerial insectivore is a long-distance migrant, breeding in central and eastern Canada and wintering in South America. It has experienced a long-term population decline of close to 90% since 1970 in areas outside towns and cities, including a reduction of 49% over the past three generations (14 years). However, most roost counts in towns and urban areas show relatively stable numbers. A significant cause of decline is the reduced availability of aerial insects, likely due to the effects of agricultural and other pesticides, changing agricultural practices, and broad-scale ecosystem modifications in much of its breeding, migratory and wintering range. Reduced availability of roosting and nesting sites in chimneys and similar human-made structures, and in large hollow trees, is also likely contributing to declines. Greater frequency and severity of weather extremes may be reducing productivity, and increasing mortality during migration.
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 (2007-08-30)2007 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
COSEWIC Annual Report 2017 to 2018 (2018-10-15)Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 90 wildlife species and 11 of these were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 90, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 38 wildlife species; of these, the majority (87%) were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 771 wildlife species in various risk categories including 338 Endangered, 183 Threatened, 228 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 18 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, and a total of 59 wildlife species have also been designated as Data Deficient and 197 have been assessed and assigned Not at Risk status.
Permits and Related Agreements
The Chimney Swift... coming to a chimney near you (2013-11-26)This brochure was developed for landowners in Quebec. If you live there or in another province and wish to report your observations about Chimney Swifts, please contact your regional Environment Canada office.