Bird GuideSwiftsChimney Swift

At a Glance

The only swift occurring regularly in the east. It once nested in hollow trees, but today it nearly always nests in chimneys or other structures. Because the bird can be easily captured and banded in such situations, it has been studied much more thoroughly than other North American swifts. In late summer, hundreds or even thousands of individuals may roost in one large chimney, gathering in spectacular flocks overhead near dusk.
Swallow-like Birds, Swifts
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Erratic, Rapid Wingbeats, Swooping

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Migrates in flocks, apparently by day. A long-distance migrant, wintering in eastern Peru and perhaps elsewhere in the Amazon Basin of South America.


4 3/4-5 1/2" (12-14 cm). Gray overall, best known by shape: stubby at both ends, with scimitar-shaped wings (sometimes called "a cigar with wings").
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, White
Wing Shape
Long, Narrow, Pointed, Swept, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

Loud, chattering twitters.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Hi, Trill


Open sky, especially over cities and towns. Forages in the sky over any kind of terrain, wherever there are flying insects. Now most common over towns and cities; within its range, few forests remain with hollow trees large enough to serve as nest sites.



4-5, sometimes 3-6. White. Incubation is by both parents, 19-21 days.


Both parents feed young, by regurgitating insects. Young may climb out of nest after about 20 days, creeping up vertical walls. Age of young at first flight about 28-30 days.

Feeding Behavior

Forages only while flying, pursuing insects and scooping them out of the air. Often flies high but will forage very low during wet weather. Typically seen foraging in small flocks.


Flying insects. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including beetles, flies, true bugs, and moths; also spiders. Will concentrate at times on swarming insects, such as emergences of winged adult ants.


Courtship involves aerial displays; in one display, two birds fly close together, one following the other, both gliding with wings held up in V. Breeding pair is often assisted by an extra adult "helper." Nest site is inside a chimney or similar hollow tower, usually well down from opening, in a well-shaded area. Originally nested (and sometimes still does) inside large hollow trees. Nest (built by both sexes) is shaped like half a saucer, made of twigs glued together with the birds' saliva. Adults break off short dead twigs while zooming past in flight.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Probably increased greatly in numbers after adapting to nesting in chimneys, much more readily available than hollow trees. In recent decades it has declined in some areas, but still widespread and common.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Chimney Swift. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Chimney Swift

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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