Cottages are seen as a ‘home away from home’, a place to relax, recharge, and rejuvenate. But they can also provide a home for wildlife. The chimney swift, a small grey cigar-shaped bird that preys on mosquitoes and other flying insects, has adapted to roost and nest in human-made structures—preferring, as the name suggests, chimneys. However, chimney swifts in Canada are in major trouble; over 90% of the population has declined since 1970.
To help conserve the species, Birds Canada, with financial support from Environment and Climate Change Canada, has launched the Chimney Swift Chimney Restoration Fund. Owners of structures in need of repair and used by chimney swifts for nesting and roosting can apply for financial support from the fund. The fund may provide up to 50% of the total cost of the restoration project, while ensuring that the repairs continue to allow chimney swifts to use the structure for nesting and roosting.
Chimney swifts tend to occupy buildings that were built before 1960, says Véronique Connolly, coordinator for the Chimney Swift Fund. As aging chimneys fall apart or are capped or demolished, the chimney swifts lose out on valuable habitat.
“Often chimney owners don’t have the financial resources to repair a chimney. Sometimes it’s easier just to demolish it,” says Connolly.
Chimney swifts seek out chimneys built with rough materials like brick, stone, or concrete. “Chimney swifts can’t perch like birds that you would see on telephone wires,” says Natasha Barlow, a projects biologist for Birds Canada. Their back toes can swivel forward though, helping the birds cling to rough surfaces, she says.
Those rough building materials also provide a nice attachment area for swifts to construct their nests. Chimney swifts use saliva to glue small twigs together and then adhere the nests onto interior chimney walls, says Andrew Coughlan, the Quebec director for Birds Canada.
Coughlan maintains that chimney swifts make good tenants. “They’re not particularly noisy, and they don’t make huge nests,” he says. ”Nests are very small—about four inches wide—so it’s not going to block the chimney or cause a fire hazard.”
Sharing your cottage or home with chimney swifts doesn’t mean ceding your chimney entirely to the birds, adds Barlow. Chimney swifts migrate south for the fall and winter, so homeowners are perfectly safe to use their fireplaces and chimneys as intended while the birds are away.
The application deadline for the fund is April 21, 2022. Applicants can visit the Chimney Swift Chimney Restoration Fund’s website for the full eligibility criteria and application process.
How two engineers fixed a leaning chimney
Backyard birding: how to help birds build nests on your property