Chimney Swift Migration

A friend recently invited me to a most incredible sight, the annual migration of chimney swifts. En route to Peru, these birds flood through western North Carolina in early October, and watching their evening roost has become a community pastime.

For just ten days, at precisely 7 pm, people and cameras line the balconies – especially the ones with a good view of a chimney – to watch the nightly performance, and this year I was among them.

Like the most synchronized of dance troupes, the swifts slowly gather and begin circling in the air. First clockwise, then counterclockwise, with incredible precision and grace, seemingly of one mind. Then, as they circle, one by one they dart down the chimney to roost for the night.

The evening roost takes about 30 minutes and it’s quite a sight to behold! From my perch on a high parking deck in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, I was able to shoot the short video above just before darkness took over, with the chimney – their roosting spot – in the foreground.

During the summer, chimney swifts are common sights in the middle and eastern United States and Canada, albeit in smaller numbers than during migration season. They originally evolved to nest in hollow trees, but as the modern world spread, they quickly adapted to nest and roost in brick chimneys.

Their bodies are so specialized that they can only perch on vertical surfaces, with stiff tail feathers that bolster their perch and add agility to their flight. On summer evenings, these sleek birds come out to hunt for insects, swooping and darting through the dusk.

Look for their distinctive cigar-shaped bodies and rhythmic rapid wing beat, and listen for their distinctive chatter as they perform a personal mosquito control service in your yard. And during the fall, see if you can catch their migration through your area – it’s well worth the wait!

Further Information


  1. I have chimney swifts who have built what looks similar to a mud dobber’s nest in a corner of my covered patio. They return every year to raise their young ones beginning around March and while they are here now, I know they will soon disappear. They swoop down close to me and the babies are all flying, so I watch for them morning and evening.

  2. We have a home in Carnes Mississippi, This fall we have enjoyed watching hundreds of swifts entering and leaving an old underground storm shelter. They enter a exactly 6:45 PM and leave at 6:45AM, one or two at a time. Every day we wonder if the will be migrating, but it is mid October and the are still around. It is quite a show every evening!

  3. Ever since Katrina, when the cap came off our chimney, we have had swifts living there. They come every spring and migrate out by 1 Nov. As the swifts from the north migrate south, our swift population increases. To date, we have about 200 nesting in our chimney. Once they leave, we clean out the chimney and prepare it for spring. Our neighbors call our house the ” bat house” as they originally misidentified our swifts ad bats.

  4. We have had chimney Swift’s live in our chimney for many years. We live on a wooded area and I really never see the birds. I just hear them once the babies are hatched we hear them chirping for food and we hear that very loud swooping, arrival sound when the parents come down the chimney. How do people see them when they are flying? I would love to see the Swifts!


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