Chimney swift

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More names for this bird

The Dakota and Anishinaabe were among the earliest people to name Minnesota’s plants and animals, as well as to understand them in relation to Minnesota’s climate and seasons. Those original names are still in use, and several are included on the Season Watch website. However, complete translations were not available.

Latin (or scientific name): Chaetura pelagica

The scientific community has a convention of assigning agreed-upon Latin names to every kind of organism. Using scientific names helps people communicate confidently about the same organism and organize lifeforms based on how closely related they are.

Chimney swifts at communal roost

August 21, 2016, Dane County, Wisconsin

Video by Ryan Treves (

About the chimney swift

  • "Spiny-tailed wanderer" is the meaning of this bird's Latin name (Chaetura pelagica). Tiny spines on the tips of its tail feathers support the chimney swift as it clings to vertical surfaces (e.g., building walls or chimney interiors).
  • The moniker "wanderer" is apt because it flies long distances between North and South America.
  • This small bird flies all day long, eating insects on the wing, and is rarely seen perched. (In fact, it cannot perch the way most birds do, on horizontal supports such as branches or wires.)
  • Fun fact: Recognize this bird by its chittering sounds and its shape, which birders describe as a "flying cigar".
  • Chimney swifts migrate. Expand the "Migration animation" section below to learn more.

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Migration animation

Click the full-frame icon (lower right corner of video) to play at full size.

Video file

More about eBird's abundance animations

eBird data from 2006-2020. Estimated for 2020. Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, W. Hochachka, L. Jaromczyk, C. Wood, I. Davies, M. Iliff, L. Seitz. 2021. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2020; Released: 2021. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.

Visual guide to phenology

Watch for changes in chimney swifts' presence (or absence), abundance, and behaviors at different times of year. Also, pay attention to when young-of-year appear and develop.

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Note to observers

This page explains general clues to watch and listen for when observing chimney swift phenology. However, this page does not explain how to identify this bird or collect data in a standardized way.

Single chimney swift silhouetted against a blue-gray sky. Its wings make a boomerang shape and its body is a cigar shape.
A chimney swift is being held by a bird-bander. This allows a clear view of tail feathers with long spines.
This photo looks down into a chimney where at least five chimney swifts can be seen in the narrow space.
A dusk scene with at least forty chimney swifts flying around the opening of a chimney.
A tall, narrow tower provides artificial housing for chimney swifts.
At least fifty tiny specks pepper the sky, looking up from amidst apartment buildings in an urban setting. This is a typical view of chimney swifts.
Silhouette of a chimney swift against a pale blue sky.

Audio resources

Audio file
Chimney swifts vocalizing
June 14, 2020, Hennepin County, Minnesota
Recording by Michael Hurben ( CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Audio file
Chimney swift young begging and being fed by adult.
Recording by edmundsjames ( CC0