Chimney swift (Chaetura pelagica) COSEWIC assessment and status report: chapter 5

COSEWIC Status Report
on the
Chimney Swift
Chaetura pelagica
in Canada

Species Information

Name and Classification

Scientific name: Chaetura pelagica (Linnaeus 1758); English name: Chimney Swift; French name: Martinet ramoneur; Spanish name: Vencejo de chimenea.

The Chimney Swift belongs to the genus Chaetura, which includes eight other species unique to the Americas (Chantler 1999). Chaetura swifts belong to the tribe Chaeturini, which in turn is part of the subfamily Apodinae, family Apodidae, order Apodiformes. The Chimney Swift is considered a monotypic species (Chantler 1999). There are three other species of swifts in Canada: Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi), the only other Chaetura swift in North America; Black Swift (Cypseloides niger); and the White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis). All three are restricted to the western cordillera (Godfrey 1986).


Often mistaken for a swallow, the Chimney Swift is readily distinguished by its cigar-shaped body, short tail, long, narrow, pointed wings, characteristic call and quick jerky flight. It is 12 to 14 cm long (Chantler 1999) with a wingspan of 29 to 31 cm (Snow and Perrins 1998) and weighs approximately 21 g (Chantler 1999). The shafts of the tail feathers extend 5 to 7 mm beyond the feather tips, giving the tail a spiny appearance, a diagnostic feature of the genus Chaetura. The wings are long and narrow, with the relatively long primaries and short secondaries typical of swifts. The folded wings extend well beyond the tail. Upperparts are dark sooty brown, palest on the rump, blackish on the wings; underparts are dark, paling to brownish grey and sometimes white on the throat (Godfrey 1986). The Chimney Swift does not exhibit any sexual dimorphism (Fischer 1958) and the juvenile plumage is similar to that of the adult. Smaller size and spiny tail distinguish it from the Black and White-throated Swifts. It is very similar to the Vaux’s Swift, but is larger and darker and has lower-pitched calls.


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