notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Houseguests

I heard it again yesterday.

The sound in the chimney that can only mean one thing.

Swifts.

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.

“Probably.”

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.”

“Huh?”

“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.

Welcome back.

swift

 

(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.)

34 Comments

  1. Glad they’re swifts. They are terrific birds. I love watching them — and was just doing that at the park with Duncan.

    When we first moved into our current house, I heard chirping in the chimney the first spring. I thought it was swifts but apparently not. Because the baby birds couldn’t fly out of the nest. The result wasn’t pleasant. We have a cap on the chimney now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s too bad. We have had no further incidents with our houseguests. We figure it is a nice thing to share. And we must be good hosts because they keep coming back.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. One morning after all the kids had gone to school and I was alone in the house, I heard a noise upstairs. Our Golden Retriever looked at me, I looked at him and I swear he opened his mouth and said “Hmm. Scary. Sounds like someone is upstairs but you know, I am not allowed upstairs, so you have to go. O well.” Maybe it was a thought balloon over his head. But that statement was 100% written all over his face.
    So up I go to find the cat with a bird in its mouth, wings flapping. Cat looked please and easily surrendered the frightened but unharmed bird. (Cat was what I thought was old at the time, about 13. He lived to be 20.)
    I have a tendency to leave the back door open in the spring so birds in the house aren’t that unusual. One time I had TWO. Keeps life interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • We haven’t had one in the house since, but we’ve learned to share the chimney. We just have the chimney maintenance guys come every fall to clean out the empty nests, so we don’t start a chimney fire the first time we light the fireplace.

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  3. We don’t have swifts around here (southern Ontario) but one day back in 2002 we heard noises (walking-around sounds and some wing flapping) in the chimney above the downstairs (wood burning) fireplace and assumed some poor bird had fallen in from above (although we never could figure out how or why). I spread out a dropsheet in front of the fireplace, put a box inside with some enticing breadcrumbs on the bottom, opened the damper and closed the metal ‘drapes’. The boys and I kept vigil for several hours, taking turns peeking inside and up through the open damper to see if we could get some idea of what was up there. Imagine my surprise when I saw a DUCK looking down at me (a female mallard). I have no idea how she got in the chimney (or why) but she did finally drop down into the fireplace (missing the box entirely!) I managed to get hold of her and release her into the yard (whereupon she flew away without even saying ‘Thank you’.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • How cool is that! You are a duck lure! And saver.

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      • Leslie

        We had a duck in our chimney,too! I told my husband he needed a plan to capture it before he opened the flue. I knew it wold fly all over the house if he didn’t. ( I left for work)He armed himself with a trash can and his fishing net captured it and set it free outside. But I still had soot all over the wall, mantle, and bookshelves. We then capped the chimney.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I like to think she appreciated it!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great story! I love it. 😂

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  5. Swifts are so much better than squirrels. We have a gas fireplace that doesn’t have a real chimney.

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    • My aunt once had a squirrel get into her house. She tried to remain calm but the squirrel had a major panic attack and destroyed her curtains and her sofa.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. You have swifts, and we have swallows. Lovely birds, though a bit noisy and good shots with target practice on our roof. We see many of them dipping into the water to drink. I could watch them for hours.

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    • Where do the swallows live?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Now that is something we’re not sure about. Swallows tend to return to their breeding grounds and we’ve known them to set up house in barns, attics and garages when we were living in Lincolnshire. Here, it is possible they have little nooks and crannies in the trees, or maybe even in the residential housing that flanks the marina. The properties have open car ports, so nests would be easily accessible, and I believe like swifts and house martins, they tend to build along the walls in the eaves/gables.
        We’ve already discovered that the blue tits like to nest in the outside ashtray by the laundry, so a notice is put on it accordingly until they fledge.

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  7. I’ve never had a problem with birds. I did find about 100 bees in my basement once. That was definitely not the best day of my life.

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    • I actually took a course in Beekeeping in college. I loved it. But finding a hive in my house would not be a good thing.

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  8. Ray G

    I feel sorry for Stewie. Isn’t it amazing how a cat can instantly go from lazyiness to leaping at and catching something like a bird?

    Like

  9. What a fantastic story 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yay for you! I think swifts are cool birds.

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  11. This is a great story. No swifts in my area… maybe a good thing as we have enough noise around the house with a 13 year old.

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    • I think perhaps if we had a 13 year old, the swifts would have left of their own accord.

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  12. That noise would drive me crazy

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    • It did for a while. It is amazing what you get used to. My husband, of course, was not bothered at all. There are sometimes advantages to being a bit deaf.

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  13. ultrarunner2014

    Fat cigars is exactly what they look like! I’ve never heard of them! Once we had a gopher, (large ground squirrel), run in our open front door, down the stairs and into my sister’s room. She freaked out and even her cat was afraid of it, (they are about the size of a small cat).

    This year, this guy has decided to make my roof his home…

    Like

    • It’s a lovely sound… we have a flock that come to our patio in the morning.

      Like

  14. What a wonderful interesting (and funny) story! We live in California and I was not at all familiar with chimney swifts.

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    • We had not heard of them either, until they decided to join our family.

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  15. I have never heard of Swifts so this was news to me! One year, while we still had our old lab Frankie, we heard something in the chimney. Hubbs went downstairs to investigate the fireplace and a bird flew out; since Frankie would point on occasion he thought to send the dog in there to help herd the bird out. Frankie hid under the pool table while Momma bird dive-bombed him and Hubby. 20 min later, and sweating, Hubbs got the bird out the patio door and Frankie took a shaky nap. He was no help at all!! 🙂 MJ

    Fun post!!

    Like

    • It sounds like Frankie was a very gentle soul.

      Like

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