Recently while sitting on my patio and sipping on a cup of coffee I looked up into the sky above me and was quite startled at what I was seeing. Something that I realized in the moment I had not seen for many, many years. It was two unmistakably identifiable “Chimney Swifts” flying high above in the late spring sky. Their circling and unmistakable silhouettes brought back a flood of childhood memories. It also brought to light the fact that I had neither thought of nor missed their existence in my life for some sixty years. On this day however of making their re-acquaintance, they were there briefly, then gone and not seen since.
Back in the 40’s and 50’s on any given moment in the summertime you could look up in the southern skies of Arkansas and see varying numbers of the birds sailing the skies and pursuing their illusive insect prey. From early morn until late evening they were always there as their silhouettes peppered the summer skies.
Chimney swifts are probably not on anyone’s list of favorite birds. I can’t recall in recent memory ever seeing any report or wildlife documentary on television inclusive of any measure of information regarding the species. I suspect the bird’s lack of popularity is pretty much due to its overall secluded nature and nesting habits. After all, you will never, ever see one at your bird feeder or on a nearby tree branch bursting forth with beautiful song. They never land except to return to their roosts or nests which are almost always chimney type structures where they cling to the sides of the structure. They also congregate in these roosting areas much in the same manner as the familiar communal bat.
I have actually only ever seen one up close when a neighbor of ours back in my childhood days came over with one he had found outside in his driveway that had been hurt. Knowing that most people have never seen one up close and personal he brought it over for us all to take a gander. That would be my first and my last time to ever see one of the winged creatures up close and personal.
Given my curiosity into my perceived disappearance of the Chimney Swift from my summer skies, it was only fitting that I do a little research on the subject. It was noted by one reputable source, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, that the species has suffered sharp declines in decades due to the disuse of chimneys across their summer breeding grounds. In 2010 it was noted that there threatened species category was elevated from “least concerned” to “near threatened”. Now that is nowhere near the ‘endangered’ category but nevertheless, does reflect significant decreases in the population. It was also noted in my research that large weather events such as hurricanes can have serious impacts on the populations living in their paths. The migration map noted on the left reflects the migration of these birds, the ‘blue’ shaded area in South America reflects their winter resident area while the ‘yellow’ shaded area in North America reflects their summer breeding grounds.
As I often these days find myself reflecting on the memories of days gone by, I could not forsake the memories of looking up and seeing these birds, always there in flight and simply a standard fixture to any summer day. So when I look up these days into that same old summer sky, I now ponder the stark realization that it too no longer reflects those remembered and cherished childhood days for those chimney swift silhouettes are no longer painted across my elderly sky.