Chimney Swifts

A few days ago, I was in a restless and bad mood, so I went for a stroll in my chariot (that’s my new name for my power wheelchair).  It was around 7:15, and I realized there was a beautiful sunset going on — lots of cumulonimbus clouds hanging in waves and swirls, making a prism of the sky.  I went to the little schoolyard park across the street and watched this amazing show of nature and color.

As the sun set, I kept hearing the trilling of birds.  I figured some were roosting in the trees, then I looked up and realized there was a flock circling the area.   It took a while, but I saw they were circling the brick chimney of an apartment building next to the park.  I’d never noticed the building had a chimney, but there it was, and I got to see the birds, chimney swifts, come to roost for the evening.

It’s such a delight, I don’t know why it amazes and lifts my heart so much to see these little birds join together in the evening and take turns making their was into the dark safety of a chimney.

When I lived in Portland, I loved to go in September to the Chapman school grounds (along with most of Portland), to watch the Vaux’s swifts come to roost in their chimney as they migrated to South America:

vaux swifts
from my 2012 journal

They can’t perch in trees.  They can only perch sideways, like woodpeckers.  They hang by their strong claws all night to rest.

I didn’t think I’d see anything as wonderous when I moved back to Memphis, but there has been so much to marvel at since I’ve been home.  I think I had blinders on before.  And now I’ve seen the swifts.  They are common here, but I wasn’t aware of it.

That evening, there were hundreds of them, circling, diving, some going in, some and not able to quite make it into the chimney until a few more circles in the sky.  Sometimes it looked like they’d flown away, but they’d swoop back in, and dive down.  Then, as it became the darkest part of dusk, a first star appeared and the last birds fluttered in and the sky was still and a silence settled upon the night.

They don’t fly close enough to see in detail, I looked at several references for this bird sketch

Well, there was some urban sounds: the woosh of traffic and some cricket songs.   But the birds had settled for the night.

And so had I.  It took almost an hour for the birds to fill the chimney.

All traces of my bad mood were put to bed under a blanket of wonder.

In spite of all the difficulties of aging, I’ve found that I’ve also become more keenly aware of the beauty and intricacy of the natural world, of which I am a part.

Sometimes, a hawk will swoop into the flock and grab one of the small birds from the sky.  Dinner for another hungry bird.  Life in cycles, in beauty, in brutality, in a swirl, all around us.  In the dwindling light, my own life seemed both more and less significant.  I felt part of a bigger plan.  I got caught up in a swirl of life, but then circled back home to a safe place to rest.


My photos of the sunset didn’t capture the oranges and pinks.  Life is more colorful in person 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about chimney swifts you can read about them here:


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