Swifts of Virginia (1 Species to Know)

Swifts are quick moving aerial insectivores that soar through the sky with fast wing beats alternating with open-winged gliding. There are a handful of different swift species that live in the United States but only one species that can be found in Virginia. Here is everything you need to know about that species.

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren)

Chimney Swifts are small cigar shaped birds with sharp looking wings in flight. They have dark brown backs and heads with a slightly lighter underside, and a noticeably whiter throat. They have very short tails that are not forked.

In flight, they make chattering noises and can be identified by their very quick flaps, almost making them look moth-like.


Chimney Swifts winter in the Northwestern part of South America and migrate north into the Eastern United States where they spend the summer. They reach into the Southeastern portion of Canada during summer as well.

Diet and Foraging Habits

Chimney Swifts eat insects, mostly those of the flying variety. They will also pick insects off of branches and hover in place while they do. This species feeds over a wide variety of habitats and landscapes including more urban areas.

Where to Find This Bird

Chimney Swifts can be found in an extremely wide variety of places. Look for areas with many insects as this species is easy to see while foraging. Listening for the distinctive chattering calls of the Chimney Swift overhead is one of the easiest ways to locate the species.

It’s also worth noting that a great time to see Chimney Swifts is during fall migration when hundreds to thousands of them gather together and roost in chimneys. This event is quite the spectacle and many bird clubs hold events centered around seeing it.


Swifts are very unique birds that play an important role in the ecosystems of North American. Knowing which species is expected in your state can be instrumental in identifying which one you’re looking at.

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