Calling in the Sweeps to Help the Swifts

Professional chimney cleaners help birds get a grip

06-01-2003 // Heidi Ridgley
Calling in the Sweeps magazine layout - swift in nest

Photo: © RON AUSTING

PAUL AND GEORGEAN KYLE have worked hard to cover all the bases when it comes to protecting chimney swifts. Besides directing the North American Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project for the Texas-based Driftwood Wildlife Association and working with Partners in Flight, the couple also realizes that one of the most obvious ways to help chimney swifts is to enlist the help of chimney sweeps.

Although it's illegal to disturb nesting migratory birds, when a homeowner calls to get rid of them, it's sometimes hard for a chimney sweep to resist. "The lure of money can be tempting during the slow part of the year," Paul says. "Some will break the law, scrape the birds out of the chimney, vacuum them up and put them in the trash. But there are also many in the profession who are dead set against doing such a thing. They realize that doing what is environmentally correct doesn’t have to hurt their business."

Paul Hempel, a chimney sweep in Brighton, Illinois, is one of them. For at least 15 of the 25 years he’s been in business, he’s been encouraging his customers to leave the birds alone and not to cap their chimneys. He makes up for the loss in sales by getting homeowners to commit to annual cleanings. When customers call him to get rid of the nests in their chimneys, he uses the opportunity to tell them about the thousands of bugs that the birds devour. "Reminding people that these birds eat the mosquitoes that often keep homeowners from enjoying their backyards works most of the time," he says. "When it doesn't, there's always the federal law to fall back on."

Hempel, a self-proclaimed ecology buff, works actively within the chimney sweep guild to promote an understanding of chimney swifts so that his colleagues know they can suggest alternatives to disturbing or destroying nesting swifts. He's also designed his own chimney to entice swifts to nest there. But, he says with some disappointment, "the little brats just won't move in."

Paul Kyle says other bird lovers who are "do-it-yourself" types might consider building towers that mimic chimney nesting sites. Often, a chimney swift pair will readily accept them the first year, he says.

Read more about chimney swifts.

Learn how to build a chimney swift tower.

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