While on our recent trip to Oregon to spend time with family, we had the rare privilege of witnessing the spectacular phenomenon of thousands of Chimney Swifts preparing for their long migration flight back to South America for the winter. Our son coaches the varsity volleyball team at North Clackamas Christian School in Oregon City and we had gone with him to watch them play against Portland Waldorf, a private charter school in their conference. At the end of the match, we walked outside of their gym and soon all had their eyes fixed on the sky immediately above a large old chimney at the school where there were thousands of Chimney Swifts swirling in tornado-like fashion, feasting on the evening hatch of insects. What a sight!
Chimney Swifts are swallow-like in appearance and behavior, but with slimmer, scythe-like wings and short tails. The sooty-gray Chimney Swift is best identified by its sleek silhouette, often compared to a “flying cigar.” They are structurally distinct with flat skulls and all four toes pointing forward. Their flight is very rapid,”twinkling,” sailing between spurts with wings stiffly bowed. They are among the most aerial of all birds and—like the hummingbirds—Swifts have long wingtip bones that give them added maneuverability in flight. The family name, Apodidae, means “footless” in Greek. The Swifts do in fact have feet which are useful only for clinging to vertical surfaces. These fantastic fliers can eat, drink, break off twigs for their nest, mate, and even sleep while in flight! God, in His great wisdom, designed the Chimney Swift with special feet that enable them to cling to vertical surfaces and also with sticky saliva that they use to hold their twig nest together on the inside of a chimney.
Chimney Swifts are migratory birds which winter in South America, returning to North America in early April. Like bats, these birds once nested primarily in old hollow trees, but as the trees disappeared from the landscape, they now nest almost exclusively in chimneys, And, like bats, they eat lots of flying insects. They make their nests on the inside walls of chimneys, coming out at dusk to forage for insects. Chimneys made of stone, fire brick or masonry flue tiles with mortared joints provide the ideal surface for nesting swifts.
Sometime in mid to late September, prior to migrating south for the winter, they form large flocks as they prepare for their long trip back to South America. They search out a large chimney as a temporary staging area for their upcoming trip. If you are fortunate, as we were last week in Portland, at dusk, you may get to witness the amazing spectacle of up to 10,000 Chimney Swifts swirling in and out of a large chimney, gorging on insects and then returning to the chimney to rest up for their long flight.
As we consider the wonderful design of God’s amazing creatures like the Chimney Swift we can’t help but feel a sense of awe at how God has equipped each species of birds and animals for survival on the earth He prepared for them, and then to think that He put us, as the “crown” of all of His Creation, in charge of it all and asked us to care for it. No wonder the Psalmist, David, shouted out, “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth! You have set Your glory above the heavens?…When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place; what is man, that You are mindful of him, the son of man, that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honor! You made him ruler over the works of Thy hands; You put everything under his feet, all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swims the paths of the sea. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psa. 8).
As we consider how God cares for His creatures like the little Chimney Swift, we are reminded of Jesus’ words in His Sermon on the Mount: “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Mt. 6:26). The God who cares for the birds and animals which He created surely cares much more about us and our needs. That’s why David could write in the beloved Psalm 23: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want,” and “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psa. 73:25,26).