Challenge of the Summer – Swifts!

October 11, 2017
By Jennifer Taylor, Wild Care Animal Care Coordinator

The words… Baby Chimney Swifts… are simple words, but they strike fear in the hearts of many wildlife rehabilitators.  Wild Care included.  They are a very difficult species to deal with in a captive situation.  They are prone to disease, difficult to feed, and so delicate that their toes can easily break rendering them non-releasable.  Their natural history is more bat-like than bird-like (check out the video below of swifts circling into a chimney, to see what we mean).  

Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine called us early this summer and asked if we would take a batch of them – I think we started with four, and ended up with 12.  Remembering the previous summer with all the time and anxiety we devoted  to these creatures, I told Jess that we really couldn’t take them.  She told me this was the answer she got from everyone else.  I felt bad, thought about how lucky Wild Care was to have four full-time interns this summer, and how we did successfully release most of our swifts last year, and decided to accept them telling her we will do our best.  I like a challenge, and thought about how awesome it would be to conquer the fear!

I told the staff what would be arriving later that day and I caught the glint of dread in their faces.  “I will consult Chimney Swift experts,” I assured them, and that I would refer back to a class I took at the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Wildlife Symposium this March called something like “Chimney Swifts? Don’t Sweat It!”

Well, to make a long story short I received wonderful advice from a Chimney Swift Guru in Connecticut named Jayne Neville. With Jayne’s advice, along with creative thinking, the purchase of hundreds of dollars worth of mealworms, waxworms, and crickets, a protein/vitamin supplement concoction, and endless work of feeding eleven birds about 10 bugs at a time every half hour for 12 hours per day for several weeks …..we did it.

And we did it WELL!  

Credit, compliments and thank you goes to all of the staff, the interns and the amazing volunteers who participated in our Chimney Swift Challenge 2017!

They were successfully released in early September.

View a video of the swifts being hand-fed. Notice their tiny pin feathers surrounded by sheaths, giving them a “spiky” appearance. Video by Stephanie Ellis.

And here’s a video of  Vaux’s Swifts forming large congregations at nocturnal roosts. More bat-like than bird-like. Simply amazing. (Copyright Pecocluster)


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