The Geneseo Chimney Swift Project at SUNY Geneseo is an effort to promote the conservation of chimney swifts on campus and in the surrounding community. The project will begin in Summer 2019 and continue through the 2019–2020 academic year.

What are chimney swifts?

chimney swift in flight
A chimney swift in flight. Photo credit: Andrew Cannizzaro (CC BY 2.0)

The chimney swift is a small insectivorous bird in the order Apodiformes. Superficially they resemble swallows, but phylogenetically they are more closely related to hummingbirds. During the breeding season (May through September), chimney swifts are found throughout the eastern United States and Canada. In the fall, they migrate to the tropical forests of Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, and Brazil.

Before the European colonization of North America, chimney swifts nested in hollow trees, which were common in the old-growth forests that dominated the landscape. Deforestation and habitat destruction prompted chimney swifts to adapt to new breeding sites. Now they nest almost exclusively in human-built structures, particularly chimneys.

The population of chimney swifts is declining at an alarming rate (–3% per year). Since 2010, the species has been classified as “vulnerable to human-caused extinction” on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. The sharp decline in their numbers is believed to be related to a decrease in the number of suitable nesting sites. As older buildings are demolished, and modern buildings are constructed with chimneys designed to exclude wildlife, suitable nesting locations are becoming harder to find.

What are we doing to help?

Our mission is to promote chimney swift conservation in western New York, using a multifaceted approach that includes the following goals:

chimney swift tending to young in nest
A chimney swift tends to its nestlings.
  • Nesting tower construction: We are building artificial nesting structures based on designs from the Chimney Swift Conservation Association. We plan to install our first towers on the SUNY Geneseo campus in time for the 2020 breeding season.
  • Research: We are using open community science data to locate existing chimney swift nesting sites in the area. We can then ensure the preservation of existing nest sites and install predator guards as necessary to promote successful breeding. This information will also inform the selection of sites for new nesting towers.
John J. Audubon’s depiction of an chimney swift in Birds of America, 1827.
  • Outreach and education: Our nesting towers are accompanied by informational kiosks explaining the purpose of the towers and promoting awareness of the threatened status of chimney swifts. Our hope is that increasing public awareness will encourage members of the community to make informed decisions regarding, for instance, unexpected swift nests on their property.
  • Applied learning in conservation: The Geneseo Chimney Swift Project is an opportunity for students interested in environmental science and conservation to gain hands-on experience in an organized conservation initiative. The project brings together students from diverse fields of study who share a passion for environmental stewardship and promoting the conservation of our native wildlife.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the Genesee Valley Audubon Society as well as the SUNY Geneseo Office of Sustainability for their generous support and collaboration.

Interested in this project?

If you’re interested in participating in the Geneseo Chimney Swift Project, please contact Prof. Brandon Tate at tateb@geneseo.edu for more information.