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The Chimney Swift
by [?]

One day a swarm of honey-bees went into my chimney, and I mounted the stack to see into which flue they had gone. As I craned my neck above the sooty vent, with the bees humming about my ears, the first thing my eye rested upon in the black interior was a pair of long white pearls upon a little shelf of twigs, the nest of the chimney swallow, or swift,–honey, soot, and birds’ eggs closely associated. The bees, though in an unused flue, soon found the gas of anthracite that hovered about the top of the chimney too much for them, and they left. But the swifts are not repelled by smoke. They seem to have entirely abandoned their former nesting-places in hollow trees and stumps, and to frequent only chimneys. A tireless bird, never perching, all day upon the wing, and probably capable of flying one thousand miles in twenty-four hours, they do not even stop to gather materials for their nests, but snap off the small dry twigs from the tree-tops as they fly by. Confine one of these swifts to a room and it does not perch, but after flying till it becomes bewildered and exhausted, it clings to the side of the wall till it dies. Once, on returning to my room after several days’ absence, I found one in which life seemed nearly extinct; its feet grasped my finger as I removed it from the wall, but its eyes closed, and it seemed about on the point of joining its companion, which lay dead upon the floor. Tossing it into the air, however, seemed to awaken its wonderful powers of flight, and away it went straight toward the clouds. On the wing the chimney swift looks like an athlete stripped for the race. There is the least appearance of quill and plumage of any of our birds, and, with all its speed and marvelous evolutions, the effect of its flight is stiff and wiry. There appears to be but one joint in the wing, and that next the body. This peculiar inflexible motion of the wings, as if they were little sickles of sheet iron, seems to be owing to the length and development of the primary quills and the smallness of the secondary. The wing appears to hinge only at the wrist. The barn swallow lines its rude masonry with feathers, but the swift begins life on bare twigs, glued together by a glue of home manufacture as adhesive as Spaulding’s.

The big chimney of my cabin “Slabsides” of course attracted the chimney swifts, and as it was not used in summer, two pairs built their nests in it, and we had the muffled thunder of their wings at all hours of the day and night. One night, when one of the broods was nearly fledged, the nest that held them fell down into the fireplace. Such a din of screeching and chattering as they instantly set up! Neither my dog nor I could sleep. They yelled in chorus, stopping at the end of every half-minute as if upon signal. Now they were all screeching at the top of their voices, then a sudden, dead silence ensued. Then the din began again, to terminate at the instant as before. If they had been long practicing together, they could not have succeeded better. I never before heard the cry of birds so accurately timed. After a while I got up and put them back up the chimney, and stopped up the throat of the flue with newspapers. The next day one of the parent birds, in bringing food to them, came down the chimney with such force that it passed through the papers and brought up in the fireplace. On capturing it I saw that its throat was distended with food as a chipmunk’s cheek with corn, or a boy’s pocket with chestnuts. I opened its mandibles, when it ejected a wad of insects as large as a bean. Most of them were much macerated, but there were two house-flies yet alive and but little the worse for their close confinement. They stretched themselves and walked about upon my hand, enjoying a breath of fresh air once more. It was nearly two hours before the swift again ventured into the chimney with food.