Life in America

Strange noises in the chimney

by Suw on July 15, 2014

I’ve been in the US for two weeks now, and I’m starting to feel settled in. Our house is lovely, if still rather empty and echoey as our furniture is still in the Port of New York, going through customs and, eventually, making its way here. We have a couple of chairs, and yesterday picked up a table at a garage sale, but the house is mostly empty at the moment.

There’s a lovely fireplace in the lounge, and a couple of days ago we went to light the fire. It was a bit cool that evening, and we thought a fire would be cosy and make the place seem a bit more homely. Just above the fire grate, in the chimney, there is a dampener which shuts off the chimney, and which you have to open if you want to set a fire. Kevin did, and there was a very odd noise coming out of the chimney:

It turns out that we have a nest of chimney swifts in residence. According to what I’ve read, they become audible at about two weeks, and will fledge in another two. They are now very clearly audible even with the dampener closed. When the parents return with food, you hear a brief drumming sound as they claps their wings to their body at speed, and then the chimney erupts in enthusiastic chirping. This happens frequently throughout the day and although Grabbity and Mewton were perplexed at first, they’ve now decided it’s just background noise.

(I did try to record the sounds of our swifts specifically, and my phone did take a hit of bird poop in the process, but the resulting video was too quiet to be useful. I will try again tomorrow.)

Chimney swifts are classed as ‘near threatened’, possibly due to a decline in the insect population because of pesticide use and the loss of habitat. Chimney swifts used to nest in hollow trees, but when humans started cutting down trees and building houses, they shifted to chimneys instead. Many people now cap their chimneys to prevent animals like the swifts from gaining access. Ours obviously hasn’t been capped and, now we know a bit more about these delightful birds, we won’t be adding a cap in the winter.

Migrating birds are protected in the US, so we wouldn’t be allowed to disturb them whilst nesting or roosting even if we wanted to, but they are so cute and the sounds so adorable that I’m happy to share our home with them. The only real adjustments we’ll need to make is to sweep our chimney at the end of the season when they migrate back to Peru, to get rid of the nesting debris and prevent potential chimney fires, and then again in mid-March to make sure that the chimney is clear of creosotes and other deposits from our winter fires.

I expected some new and different experiences when I moved to America, but I can’t say that I expected to share my house with chimney swifts!

UPDATE: I managed to get some decent video of the swifts. Watch full screen and in HD if you can. The fun starts around 00:20.

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