I heard it again yesterday.
The sound in the chimney that can only mean one thing.
We’ve had these houseguests before. Several times.
A few years ago, I start hearing strange noises in the chimney. My husband is hard of hearing, but he doesn’t let that stop him from telling me I am nuts when I hear strange noises.
The car, for instance. I tell him my car is making a weird noise, and he says, “I don’t think so.” When he can’t HEAR. And then of course when something major goes wrong, he is astounded that there was no warning. Why does he not believe me?
So anyway, I tell him I am hearing scratching noises in the chimney. He says, “Naah….” (Thanks, Honey… very helpful.)
A week or so later, the scratching noises turn into something else. Sharp little cries. I have my husband stand by the fireplace. Nope. Nothing.
Then the cheeps turn into shrieks. Shrieks whose meaning were evident – “Feed me now!”
But these cries are different from any baby birds I ever heard. And they are getting louder. I have my husband stand with his head IN the fireplace.
Here’s what we hear. (not our house, but exactly our sound)
“Oh, that’s weird,” he says. (Finally.)
“Could it be bats?” I ask.
So I call the exterminator. I tell him I think we have bats in the chimney. He doubts it, but he comes over.
He listens. “Not bats,” he says. “Swifts.”
“Swifts. Chimney Swifts.”
I stare at him blankly.
“Birds,” he explains.
So I ask him to get rid of them, but he won’t. He explains that swifts are endangered. A protected species. Once they make their nests you must let them be. They’ll leave in the Fall, he says, and then you put a screen over the chimney to keep them out when they return in the Spring.
This doesn’t sound like a very good solution. So I call the guys who clean our chimney every year. I explain that we have swifts in the chimney. They say no. They won’t touch the swifts either.
We do our research and find out that swifts are nice little birds. They have bodies like fat cigars, short beaks, and long pointed wings. They spend their lives airborne. You will never see a swift in a tree or on the ground. They cannot perch. They build their nests in chimneys to hold their eggs, but they don’t sit in their nests. They cling to walls. Chimney walls like ours. They mate for life. And here’s the best part: they eat bugs. They eat on the wing – flies, wasps, mosquitoes.
But they are noisy little bug-eaters.
So we learn to live with the swifts. We see them outside mostly at dusk – we have a hot tub on our patio, and we sit in the hot tub and watch them circle our roof.
“Get those mosquitoes,” we yell encouragingly.
One night we sit down to a very nice dinner – rack of lamb, if I remember correctly. And just as I pick up my fork, a bird sweeps through the kitchen, right over my head.
“Shit!” I yell.
“What’d I do?” asks my husband out of habit.
“A bird flew over my head!”
“Nah…” he says.
Then the bird turns around and buzzes my husband.
“Shit!” he yells.
The bird takes off into my husband’s office, with us in pursuit. His office has french doors, and so the bird sees the sky, and heads for the door. Terrific! We can open the door and let the bird out.
And just then Stewart the cat leaps out of nowhere. He gets the bird! Yea!
But wait! Stewart doesn’t exactly hand the bird over. Oh no. He runs up the stairs with it to our bedroom. He’s very fast. We run up the steps but he’s way ahead of us.
Stewie is running around the bedroom in triumph. And of course, he lets the bird go. The joy of capture is only surpassed by the joy of recapture – according to the cat bible.
And the bird flies into our walk-in closet. My husband quickly runs in after it and slams the door. Swift and husband on one side. Cat and wife on the other.
“Don’t come in! I think I can catch it,” he hollers.
“Don’t kill it,” I plead.
I hear lots of fluttering and huffing and puffing. Stewart is berserk on my side of the door.
“I’ve got it! I’ve got it wrapped in a T-shirt. What do I do now?”
“Push out the screen and throw it out the window.”
“Oh no! Those screens are a bitch to put back!” (And they are.)
“Do it! Do it!”
And he does. He opens the window, pushes out the screen, and shakes the tee out the window. The panic-stricken bird flies off.
We have saved an endangered creature from the jaws of Stewart!
We sit back down to our cold lamb and raise our wine glasses.
We toast to our bird-saving ability.
We toast to Stewart.
We toast to our houseguests.
And when Autumn comes and the birds fly off, we don’t put a screen on the chimney.
(PS – I wrote a poem about this a few years ago. And since it is National Poetry Month, you can read it here, if you are so inclined.)