Swifts are very different from the modern songbirds like robins, starlings, and sparrows. Their closest relative is the Hummingbird.
Song birds are also called perching birds because their foot and leg structure is such that when they land on a twig or wire their toes automatically wrap and tighten around the perch.
It doesn't work that way with swifts. Swifts can't perch at all. Swifts must cling to vertical surfaces putting their stiff tail down as a supportive kick stand. Swifts and swallows (a song bird) both spend their days hunting insects in the open sky. When the swallow needs to take a break it can take a seat on the nearest telephone wire, but the swifts keep flying. The European Common Swift may spend more than a year without landing, resting at night headed into the wind.
All this wing flapping must produce a lot of body heat and Mother Nature has surely figured out a way for the swifts to keep cool.
Photo by Charles Biggs-Monroe, WA
Salem KATU TV Channel 2 news Sept 30, 2010
Painting by Ed Newbold
North America has four species of swifts:
Vaux's Black White-Throated Chimney
From “The State of North American Birds 2016” by PIF and NABCI here's the total North American
population estimate and their Conservation Concern rating which goes from 4 to 20.
The higher the number the more vulnerable that species is considered to be. It takes a
13 or higher to make their "OMG we better do something" list.
NA population estimate Conservation Concern rating
VAUX'S 340,000 13
BLACK 70,000 15
WHITE-THROATED 800,000 11
CHIMNEY 7,800,000 12
All four of these species undertake long distance migrations with White-throated having the least
demanding. There are Vaux's that winter in Guatemala and fly 4,000 miles almost to the Yukon to
raise their young.
What ever Mother Nature did to make it so a swift is good at keeping cool while flying
works against it when it stops to rest for the night and they're not good at fluffing up to conserve
their body heat. One way to compensate for this is to huddle together. The colder it gets
during the night, the bigger the pile. This can bring a lot of swifts together on a cold night. We
have counts of over 40,000 Vaux's and 50,000 Chimney Swifts coming together in one structure
for one evening. Vaux's Happening is attempting to locate and perserve the suitable roost
sites that are along the length of the swifts' migration route.
10,000 plus Vaux's Swifts 2 to 3 deep getting out of the cold and rain in the Monroe Wagner chimney
Chaetura swifts need safe, dry and warm roost sites but the large hollow trees continue to be cut
down and the big old chimneys continue to be torn down.
What do the wee birds do when the sun is setting on a cold and rainy day with no chimneys in
sight? Here's a flock of Chimney Swifts who just migrated across the Gulf of Mexico and ran into
a southbound cold front in Beeville, Texas. These birds are resilient but they could certainly use some human help.
Audubon Vaux's Happening
Below is a Beeville Bee, Texas newspaper photo by Jason Collins.
VAUX'S SWIFT (Chaetura vauxi)