Are the Swifts Gone?

Chimney swift flying in Austin, Texas (photo by Jim McCullough, Creative Commons license, Wikimedia Commons)
Chimney swift, Austin, Texas (photo by Jim McCullough, Creative Commons license, Wikimedia Commons)

16 September 2021

Because chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica) eat insects on the wing, they eat while they migrate during the day then roost in chimneys at night. In August they begin leaving Pittsburgh and are gone by early October on their way to South America. Mid-September is usually prime time for watching them swirl and drop into chimneys at dusk.

Last year I was thrilled to watch 1,500 of them diving into the roost at the Cathedral Mansions chimney.

Chimney swifts swirl around the Cathedral Mansions chimney at dusk, Sep 2020 (photo by Michelle Kienholz)

But not this year.

Ever since Hurricane Ida passed through Pittsburgh, chimney swifts have been relatively rare and nearly absent from Cathedral Mansions. Earlier this week Steve Tirone, who watches swifts in Squirrel Hill, commented on the low numbers in his area. We’ve seen flocks of about 20 during the day but not the great numbers we usually expect.

Are the swifts gone? Have you seen large flocks of chimney swifts lately? Where?

p.s. Pittsburgh is not alone. This 15 Oct 2021 article in the Washington Post remarks on the absence of migrating swifts in Baltimore + see Kathleen’s comment below about the lack of swifts in Asheville, NC. Uh oh!

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Michelle Kienholz)

13 thoughts on “Are the Swifts Gone?

    1. For 27 years up to 5000 Swifts drop into two large Chimneys in Asheville every night next to The Grove Park Inn , in Sept until freeze . They are gone this year , it is so sad.

  1. Almost all the swifts in my part of Highland Park appear to have vanished a few weeks ago. I occasionally see one soaring high up, but none come down to my neighbor’s chimney, which I always found highly entertaining.

  2. These random observations may not mean much, but my experience this fall agrees with Laura’s. Whatever this particular fall indicates, I’ve noticed — not scientifically — a decline in migrating swifts in recent years. Declines in flying insects have been severe, which may be the biggest problem swifts — and nighthawks — face. I haven’t checked with ASWP to find out how their swift nesting towers have done this year. Worth asking!

  3. They were totally absent from Latrobe skies for the past two weeks. Now I see low numbers again and I assume that they are the migratants.

  4. Last Saturday at Moraine State Park, we had a count of 27, which I think was a low estimate at McDanel’s boat launch over the water.

  5. Our flock (swoop?) of chimney swifts is still out in Freeport, PA – saw them tonight. They are often near the Catholic church, the Methodist church, or the little park near the creek. Audubon recently built another chimney swift tower just across the creek, but I expect there are plenty of places for them to nest in the old buildings in Freeport.

  6. The chimney swifts that nested for years in my chimney in Stone Creek Ohio have not returned this spring. Does anybody know what is happening with the swifts?

    1. Alice M, I’ve noticed far fewer chimney swifts in Pittsburgh too. I don’t know what happened but it is widespread.

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