A general habitat description is a technical document that provides greater clarity on the area of habitat protected for a species based on the general habitat definition found in the Endangered Species Act, 2007. General habitat protection does not include an area where the species formerly occurred or has the potential to be reintroduced unless existing members of the species depend on that area to carry out their life processes. A general habitat description also indicates how the species' habitat has been categorized, as per the policy "Categorizing and Protecting Habitat Under the Endangered Species Act", and is based on the best scientific information available.

Habitat categorization for Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

Category 1: Human-made nest/roost, or a natural nest/roost cavity and the area within 90 m of the natural cavity

Category 2: Not applicable to this species

Category 3: Not applicable to this species

Category 1

A human-made nesting/roosting feature, or a natural nesting/roosting tree cavity and the area within 90 m of the tree, are considered the least tolerant to alteration.

Nesting features are highly sensitive to alteration, especially during the breeding season. Chimney Swifts depend on these features for reproduction, providing areas for resting, shelter, refuge from the elements, and are habitually used. Features used for roosting are equally important and sensitive to alteration. Roosting features are especially important as high concentrations of individuals may depend on them for survival, especially during seasonal migrations and during periods of inclement weather. In most cases, nesting features typically house a single pair although these areas may become roosts for the family or for high concentrations of individuals post-fledging or during migration (Dexter 1992, Cink and Collins 2002, COSEWIC 2007). Therefore nesting features may also simultaneously act as a roosting feature, rendering nesting and roosting features superficially indistinguishable from one another. Chimney Swifts exhibit high nest and roost site fidelity. Nest and roost sites are used from year to year as long as the feature remains stable.

In a natural setting, the area immediately surrounding a nesting or roosting tree cavity (i.e., 90 m) is important for maintaining the function and physical stability of the feature. The critical root zone of a tree is generally found up to 36 times the diameter at breast height (DBH) of a tree (Johnson 1997). The area within 90 m of a natural nesting/roosting tree will protect the critical root zone of largest tree species known to support Chimney Swift nesting/roosting. In Ontario, the most commonly known tree species to host Chimney Swift nesting or roosting sites are white pine, sycamore, yellow birch and cypress (Bird Studies Canada 2013). According to Hosie (1969), the maximum DBH for these trees is 244 cm (sycamore), therefore the critical root zone is calculated to be approximately 90 m (2.44 m X 36 = 87.84 m).

Chimney Swifts spend the majority of the daylight hours in flight foraging for aerial insects, returning to roost and nest sites at dusk (Cink and Collins 2002). This species typically forages at high altitudes and at a distance from the nest (Williams 1956, Fisher 1958). Swifts may also forage at night around street lights or illuminated buildings (Cink and Collins 2002). Savard and Falls (2001) found Chimney Swifts in Toronto to be more dependent on the presence of buildings than with remnant natural features, especially vegetation structure and volume. Chimney Swifts are more concentrated in urban areas where there are larger concentrations of suitable chimneys for nesting and/or roosting. The 2001-2005 Atlas of Breeding Birds (Cadman et al. 2007) in Ontario illustrates a concentration of breeding Chimney Swifts in the Golden Horseshoe, which has the highest population of people and buildings in Ontario. In 2012, of the 244 nests and/or roosts reported in the province, over 60% were reported in the Greater Toronto Area (Bird Studies Canada).

Category 2

Not applicable to this species.

Category 3

Not applicable to this species.

Activities in Chimney Swift habitat

Activities in general habitat can continue as long as the function of these areas for the species is maintained and individuals of the species are not killed, harmed, or harassed.

Generally compatible:

  • Chimney maintenance including masonry repair and chimney sweeping that is conducted outside of the breeding season and does not impair the function of the habitat.
  • Regular building use and building improvements that do not impair the function of the habitat.

Generally not compatible footnote * :

  • Capping or demolishing chimneys that Chimney Swift depend upon for nesting or roosting.
  • Cutting down cavity tree that Chimney Swift depend upon for nesting or roosting.

Sample application of the general habitat protection for Chimney Swift

Figure is a diagram illustrating a sample application of the general habitat protection for Chimney Swift, depicting the habitat categorization described in this document. Two examples are shown, including a human-made nest or roost feature and a natural nest or roost cavity.

Enlarge Map 1: Sample application of the general habitat protection for Chimney Swift


Bird Studies Canada. 2013. Ontario SwiftWatch 2012 Summary Report. 9 pp.

Cadman, M.D., D.A. Sutherland, G.G. Beck, D. Lepage, A.R. Couturier (eds). 2007. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Ontario.2001-2005. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Ontario Nature. 706 pp.

Cink, C.L. and C.T. Collins. 2002. Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/646doi:10.2173/bna.646

COSEWIC 2007. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Chimney Swift Chaetura pelagica in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. Vii + 49 pp.

Dexter, R. W. 1992. Sociality of Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) nesting in a colony. North American Bird Bander 17:61-64.

Fisher, R.B. 1958. The breeding biology of the Chimney Swift (Linnaeus). N.Y. State Mus. Sci. Serv. Bull. No 368, New York, New York.

Hosie, R.C. 1969. Native trees of Canada. Canadian Forestry Service, Canada Department of Forestry and Rural Development. 7th ed. Published Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1969. 380 pp.

Savard, J.P. L. and J.B. Falls. 2001. Survey techniques and habitat relationships of breeding birds in residential areas of Toronto, Canada. Pp. 543-568 in J.M. Marzluff, R. Bowman, and R. Donnelly (eds.). Avian Ecology and Conservation in an Urbanizing World. Kluwer Academic Publishers. Norwell, Massachusetts.

Whiting, D. 2011.CMG Garden Notes #103 Diagnosing Root and Soil Disorders On Landscape Trees. Colorado State University Extension, Department of Horticulture & LA, Colorado State University. http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/stdprodconsume/groups/lr/@mnr/@species/documents/document/tdprod_085648.pdf

Williams, G.G. 1956. Altitudinal records for Chimney Swifts. Wilson Bulletin. 68:71-72.

This general habitat description is available in PDF format upon request. Please email PDF requests to recovery.planning@ontario.ca.