Chimney swifts have a special status this spring

Back from winter homes in South America’s Amazon Basin, chimney swifts are scratching and fluttering about now in accommodating chimneys — including mine — as they build their half-saucer-shape nests of plant material that is glued together and to a chimney wall with saliva.

A female will lay four to five whitish eggs that will hatch in about 21 days; the babies will fledge about a month later.

This spring, the chimney swift has a special distinction: The Atlanta Audubon Society has selected it as the “focal species” for 2019-2020, meaning that it will be a main target of the society’s conservation efforts.

Although chimney swifts, known as “flying cigars” because of their sleek shape, are still relatively common in Georgia, they face serious population declines because of several threats. The birds now rely almost totally on man-made structures such as fireplace chimneys, air shafts and abandoned buildings for nesting and post-nesting roosting sites. Deforestation and loss of large hollow trees have caused a scarcity of natural nesting and roosting sites.

Not just any chimney will do for the birds, which have specialized clinging claws. The chimney’s inside walls must be made of stone, firebrick or masonry flue tiles with mortared joints, which allow the birds to grip the walls — unlike the metal materials used in modern homes.

Chimney swifts are highly beneficial, eating as many as 1,000 insects per bird per day.

As part of its conservation efforts, Atlanta Audubon, with grants from other groups, has built a 24-foot-tall demonstration “chimney swift tower” in a bird-friendly habitat in Piedmont Park. The tower will provide a nesting and roosting site for the swifts. Another 12-foot tower with an educational exhibit is being built at Sam’s Lake Bird Sanctuary in Fayetteville. Other towers are planned.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer:

The moon will be full this evening. Venus is low in the east just before sunrise. Mars is very low in the west at dusk and sets about two hours later. Jupiter rises out of the east before midnight and will appear near the moon on Monday night. Saturn rises in the east a few hours after midnight and will appear near the moon on Wednesday night.