Chaetura pelagica

Status:  Common regular spring and fall migrant and breeder east and central, uncommon west.

Chimney Swift range 2020


Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM12811, 23 Jun 1892 Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized.

Spring:  Apr 13, 13, 13 <<<> summer (southeast); Apr 30, 30, 30 <<<>>> summer (west).

Arrival is mainly in late Apr and early May, although earliest reports are in mid-Apr in the extreme southeast and late Apr in the west. An earlier date in the west is 26 Apr 2020 Scotts Bluff Co.

  • High counts: 118 in Sarpy Co 11 May 1996, 100 over Capitol Beach Lake, Lincoln, Lancaster Co 20 May 2017, 100 in Norfolk, Madison Co 5 May 2021, 90 at Pioneers Park, Lincoln, Lancaster Co 30 Apr 2016, and 90 Over UNL Campus, Lancaster Co 8 May 2019.

SummerThe breeding range has expanded westward since settlement by Europeans, likely due to human habitation providing nest sites (Steeves et al 2020). In the early 1900s, the species was rare away from the east (Bruner et al 1904), although Bates (1900) noted that it bred at O’Neill and Atkinson.  Swenk (Notes Before 1925) cited a specimen, 2626, in the Brooking collection taken at Crescent Lake, Garden Co 18 Jun 1917, Tout (1947) listed only one record for Lincoln Co, a dead bird found while cleaning his chimney in North Platte 22 Sep 1908, and Ludlow (1935) considered it uncommon “this far west,” in Webster Co, where it was not known to summer. It first bred in Brule, Keith Co in 1957 (Huntley 1958). By 1980 it was considered rare in the Panhandle (Johnsgard 1980). Ducey (1988) cited no breeding records west of North Platte, Lincoln Co, which was the westward limit noted by Rapp et al (1958).

Earliest reports ( for northeast Cherry Co are in the 1980s; one was at Valentine NWR 24 May 1983. Reports increased after 2000, west to Merriman 8 Jun 2003 (Ratzlaff, and Cody 15 Jun 2004 (James Ducey, pers. comm.). High count for Valentine was 162 on 3 Sep 2015, roosting in the chimney of the Sawyer Memorial Library on north Main Street (James Ducey, pers. comm.).

Currently it occurs westward throughout the North and South Platte River Valleys, having been noted around Sutherland, Lincoln Co in 1956 (Short 1961), a first-time summer resident at Brule in 1957 (Huntley 1958), and first reported as a summer resident in Scotts Bluff Co in 1966.

Rosche (1972, 1982) observed Chimney Swifts at Crawford, Dawes Co from 1972 onward; there is only a single record from the northern Panhandle prior to 1972, that of birds seen at Alliance, Box Butte Co in 1956 (Mathisen and Mathisen 1958). It is now (2018) established in Alliance and in towns of the southern Panhandle, notably Chappell, Sidney and Kimball. Early reports from Sidney, Cheyenne Co 28 Jul 1994 and at Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co 8 Aug 1996 and 21 Aug 1999 were apparently fall migrants. Two were in Bushnell, Kimball Co 25 Jun 2020. In 2005 Chimney Swifts were reported from Harrison, Sioux Co, possibly the last Panhandle town to record the species. In 2015, summer reports were from Chadron and Fort Robinson SHP in Dawes Co, and Scottsbluff, locations where the species is now established.

Most nesting now occurs in brick or masonry structures, including chimneys (Ducey 2003), but at one time this species nested in holes in trees of mature woodlands. Mollhoff (2001) observed that populations are declining as older buildings with chimneys are demolished, and natural nest sites are taken by European Starlings and Wood Ducks. Ducey (2003) emphasized the importance of chimneys in downtown Omaha for breeding and post-breeding gatherings of Chimney Swifts. Steeves et al (2020) stated, however: “Loss of nesting habitat (suitable chimneys) has often been cited as the cause of population declines but has so far proven false where investigated.”

Breeding Phenology:

  • Courtship V-display:  24 May
  • Eggs:  6-10 Jun

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Sep 15, 16, 17 (west), summer <<<>>> Oct 18, 19, 20 (south, east)

Departure is in early Oct; there are later reports 23 Oct 2009 Douglas Co, 23 Oct 2018 Douglas Co, and 24 Oct 2018 Lancaster Co. In the west, departure is in early Sep, although there is a later report 5 Oct 1996 in Lincoln Co (Grzybowski 1997).

During migration large numbers gather into roosting flocks, especially in urban areas; one roost site, a church chimney near downtown Omaha, was used for several weeks in 1983 by hundreds, perhaps the low thousands; these were observed entering the chimney at dusk 16 Sep 1983 (Roger Sharpe, personal communication). Ducey (2003) estimated 3000 swifts were using eastern Omaha buildings in late Aug and early Sep 2003. Many of these, given the dates, were thought by Ducey (2003) to be local breeders; highest single-chimney tally was 1000 (Ducey 2003).

An exhaustive series of 173 surveys was carried out in downtown Lincoln, Lancaster Co in 2005 and 2007 by James Ducey; representative high counts were 500 on 30 Aug 2005 at the Bethany Christian Church and 532 on 17 Sep 2007 at the 411 Building (James Ducey, pers. comm.).

  • High counts: 1500 at a chimney at 43rd Avenue and Izard Street, Omaha 16 Sep 2014 (Ducey), 1415 at a Lincoln, Lancaster Co chimney 23 Sep 2019, and 1400 at a Blackstone area church, Omaha 11 and 13 Sep 2011 (Ducey).


UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a Chimney Swift at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co, on 4 May 2008 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Bates, J.M. 1900. Additional notes and observations on the birds of northern Nebraska. Proceedings of Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union 1: 15-18.

Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Ducey, J.E. 2003. Autumn roosting habitat for Chimney Swifts in eastern Omaha. NBR 71: 127-135.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1997. Southern Great Plains Region. Field Notes 51: 78-82.

Huntley, C.W. 1958. Keith County. NBR 26: 11-12.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1980. A preliminary list of the birds of Nebraska and adjacent Great Plains states. Published by the author, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, USA.

Ludlow, C.S. 1935. A quarter-century of bird migration records at Red Cloud, Nebraska. NBR 3: 3-25.

Mathisen, J., and A. Mathisen. 1958. A study of bird habitats in Alliance City Park. NBR 26: 22-25.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Rapp, W.F. Jr., J.L.C. Rapp, H.E. Baumgarten, and R.A. Moser. 1958. Revised checklist of Nebraska birds. Occasional Papers 5, Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union, Crete, Nebraska, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1972. Notes on the distribution of some summer birds in Nebraska. NBR 40: 70-72.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Short, L.L., Jr. 1961. Notes on bird distribution in the central Plains. NBR 29: 2-22.

Steeves, T.K., S.B. Kearney-McGee, M.A. Rubega, C.L. Cink, and C.T. Collins. 2020. Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Swenk, M.H. Notes before 1925. Bird notes from A.M. Brooking of Hastings, C.A. Black of Kearney, and B.J. Olson of Kearney, based chiefly on their collections, up to January 1, 1925. Typed manuscript in the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Archives, University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Tout, W. 1947. Lincoln County birds. Published by the author, North Platte, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 29 May 2021