Swifts almost never touch the ground

There is one bird which has really benefitted by the arrival of the white man and his lifestyle to North America.
Among the flora and fauna of this continent, there are very, very few species which have done that.
Chimney Swifts are birds which have some very unusual habit. For one thing, when they are awake, they almost never touch the ground.
As well, their legs are very short but their feet are very strong.
Like woodpeckers, they have a “reverse” toe (two in front and two in back). This is great for hanging onto the faces of rock, rough bark, or masonry.
In the old days in Canada, when the only humans here were First Nations, the Chimney Swifts nested in hollow trees, old woodpecker holes, and so on. A few nested on cliff faces or steep riverbanks.
But when the white man arrived, he made just wonderful homes for them—chimneys!
The inside of a chimney is ideal. It is rough and easy to hang on to. It is a good size, and will hold a lot of birds.
And in the summer, it is not used very much. So the Swifts were delighted with this change.
They nested in chimneys in homes, other town buildings, and especially those huge factory chimneys.
Audubon made a rough count one time of the number of Swifts in an industrial chimney in Virginia. It came to about 9,000!
Nests are glued to the inside of the chimney with saliva from the birds’ mouths, and they are always made of twigs.
The Swifts get these twigs by breaking them off while they are still in flight—hovering in the air.
These birds don’t touch down to drink, either. They fly just over the surface of the water and scoop up a bit as they fly along.
Chimney Swifts are not colourful at all. They are pretty much all gray, a bit lighter on the front and darker on the wings and back.
Its wings are very long and narrow, with tail feathers that are short and stiff.
They live on insects only. Its mouth can be opened really wide, so they can catch large insects quite easily. But they have a special method for small ones.
They can fly with the mouth wide open. And flying through a cloud of small insects, flies, or midges, they can gather quite a lot of them.
For feeding their young, they collect these in a ball in their throats. Then it’s back to the nest for feeding time.
It takes quite a while to collect insects this way, so young Swifts only may get three or four meals a day.
But since eggs do not all hatch at the same time, it all seems to work out.
When Swifts are going into a chimney to roost, they have a sort of a ritual. They circle around the house at a fairly high level, gradually moving lower and lower.
Finally, a brave individual leads the way into the chimney—and the rest quickly follow, one by one.
Another odd thing about their roosting is that they fit themselves in like shingles. One bird will tuck its head under the wings and tail of the one above him.
When they are all at rest, not a single head can be seen.
Many people think that they are swallows. They are not. Actually, they are related to nighthawks and hummingbirds.
There are some other Swifts in Canada, but they live west of the Rockies. Ours, the Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagiea), lives from Manitoba east.
Don’t expect anything song-like from him—he only makes chattering noises, clicks, and chirps.
Since he is totally dependent on insects, he arrives here late and leaves early.

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