Exploring Chimney Swifts at Chaetura Canyon

There’s a chittering in the chimney.This sounds like something from a Dr. Seuss book, but it’s actually a sign you might be host to a remarkable bird above your fireplace.

Travis Audubon Master Birders recently visited Chaetura Canyon, the 12-acre bird sanctuary located near Mansfield Dam, for an up-close look at Chimney Swifts. These charming birds can be found in the Eastern half of North America and display an endearing set of human-like qualities. Mating pairs exhibit teamwork and affection (and occasionally impatience) while raising their young. Not to mention cameras placed on and in Chimney Swift towers have captured spectacular aerial shows at dusk followed by restless sleepovers.

Paul and Georgean Kyle lead Travis Audubon Master Birders on a hike at Chaetura Canyon. Photo credit: David Walker

Georgean and Paul Kyle, who donated the sanctuary to Travis Audubon in December 2006, hosted Master Birders to breakfast and a presentation followed by a hike of the property, which includes nearly 20 Chimney Swift towers. Along the way they shared their extensive knowledge of Chimney Swifts, conservation and tower construction.

Master Birders also got a hands-on experience with Chimney Swift nests. These small, saucer-shaped roosts are constructed using tiny twigs glued together with saliva (you read that correctly) and affixed to vertical walls. Chimney Swift saliva is a key ingredient not only for assembling nests, but also for inoculating their chicks against disease.

Chimney Swift nest at Chaetura Canyon. Photo credit: David Walker

Interested in checking out the Chimney Swifts of Chaetura Canyon for yourself? The sanctuary is only open for special events and programs. Visit the Travis Audubon Calendar for upcoming opportunities.


Written by Ellen Cox, a participant in the 2017 Travis Audubon Master Birder Program.