May 13 2013

On The Wing

Published by at 7:00 am under Bird Behavior

Chimney swift trio (photo by Jeff Davis)

Ever since they returned from Peru last month the chimney swifts have been busy courting in the air.

You’ll often see a trio chittering loudly, flying fast, and turning sharply in unison.  Studies have shown that the lead bird is usually a female and her followers are male.  Their chases last more than five minutes, more time than I usually can spare to watch them.

After they form pairs the couples continue to fly together.  Sometimes as they sail by the rear bird will raise his wings in a V.  This happens more often after pair formation so scientists believe it’s part of pair bonding.  I’ve seen pigeons do it too, without the “chitter.”

Chimney swifts have other amazing flight abilities.  Did you know that…

  • They fly almost constantly and only stop to roost or nest.
  • They bathe on the wing by smacking their bellies against the water’s surface and shaking it off.
  • If the opening is wide enough they can fly headfirst into a chimney and turn upright in mid air to cling to the chimney wall.
  • They fly into narrow chimneys tail first.
  • Their mean air speed is 29-30 miles per hour.
  • They can fly at an altitude of 7,000 feet on the warm air rising ahead of a cold front.

It’s a joy to watch a bird that flies so well.

(photo by Jeff Davis)

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “On The Wing”

  1. Kathleenon 13 May 2013 at 9:07 am

    I didn’t know any of those facts! I especially like their chimney maneuvers!

  2. Denise Brownon 13 May 2013 at 9:46 am

    I’ve been gleefully watching the swifts fly around since their return. Your information will make my watching much more enjoyable now that I can understand the flight patterns I see. Thanks!

  3. Dawn Puliaficoon 13 May 2013 at 11:10 am

    Interesting! Love your informative posts!

  4. Nancyon 14 May 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Are these the birds that can be seen flying above Alcosan by the McKees Rocks Bridge?

  5. Kate St. Johnon 14 May 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Nancy, yes there are swifts – and swallows, too – at the McKees Rocks Bridge. Swifts look like “cigars with wings.”

  6. Nancyon 16 May 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks Kate – I have been trying to figure out what they were for a while now!

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