Backyard bird watchers enjoy hosting nesting birds and watching them raise their young, but birds do not always build their nests where bird enthusiasts would like them to be.
One of the most troubling problem locations for bird nests is chimneys.
Bird nests in chimneys can cause lots of problems. When birds build their nest in your chimney, smoke can’t rise, and, until you remove the nest, you cannot safely start a fire.
Bird droppings can dry and turn into dust, contaminating the air inside your house.
Why Do Birds Get into the Chimney?
Birds don’t always build nests in chimneys. When your chimney crown or your chimney case cover is damaged, a bird may fly in by accident.
Or a bird looking for shelter from a storm or winter cold may fly into your chimney for temporary shelter and then not be able to find its way out.
Other birds, like the famous chimney swifts, like to settle down for the night in chimneys during their spring and fall migrations.
Scientists who put tracking devices on chimney swifts found that they travel as high as 8,000 meters (2,500 meters) into the air every day at dawn and dusk to scout out chimneys where they can spend the next night.
Until a chimney swift has found a mate, it will only stop at a chimney for a single night, but once it is ready to settle down, it may build a nest.
You don’t want birds to build their nests in your chimney, and you don’t want birds spending the night there, either.
In this article, we will tell you how you can tell if there is a bird in your chimney, when and how you can remove it, and how you can stop the problem from happening again.
Warning Signs That a Bird Is Caught in Your Chimney
Most birds don’t want to spend time in your chimney.
If you hear fluttering, scratching, and rustling of a scared bird, then you know you have a bird that flew into your chimney by mistake.
If you left the flue open, the bird may even wind up inside your house. This is the kind of bird that wants out of your chimney just as much as you want it to leave.
Chimney Swifts Want to be in the Chimney
Chimney swifts, however, want to be in your chimney. You may not become aware of them until you notice twigs falling into your fireplace.
Or maybe you will hear the chirping of young hatchlings, or you can’t get the flue open to let smoke rise from your first fire of the winter season.
Everything about having chimney swifts in your chimney isn’t bad. Chimney swifts eat lots of insects.
They may even eat wasps, hornets, and bees that would otherwise build their own homes in your chimney.
But the downside of having chimney swifts on your property is that you will seldom have just one nesting pair.
Chimney swifts like to build “chimney swift condos” of two or three nests attached to the vertical walls of a single chimney. They like to hunt bugs in groups of 20 so they can make a thunderous sound to scare off predators.
Every female chimney swift lays four or five eggs. Chances are that if you hear the constant chirping of baby chimney swifts, it won’t be just one bird.
You will be hearing 10 to 15 little birds constantly begging for food for a month, until they are ready to leave the nest. And you will have to deal with the droppings from a total of as many as 20 birds.
When Can You Remove a Bird from Your Chimney?
It’s always OK to remove any bird that is trapped in your chimney. The bird does not want to be there any more than you want it to be there.
It’s not ever OK to remove the nest of a protected bird that is nesting in your chimney.
Laws in both the United States and Canada prohibit interference with the nesting activities of wild birds.
It’s rare for chimney swifts to fly to the UK for the summer, but it’s not unusual for British chimneys to be summer homes of jackdaws, which are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.
Removing a nest in a chimney while it is being used by birds in the UK can result in unlimited fines and even prison.
Not every bird is protected in the US and Canada. It’s OK to destroy the nests of invasive birds such as starlings and house sparrows.
Laws in other countries may vary. However, birds that are not protected by law usually don’t build nests in chimneys.
How do you comply with the law? The important thing to remember is that you have to check to see if a nest is being used before you remove it from your chimney.
If a brooding couple uses the nest, or if it holds eggs or hatchlings, you must leave it alone until the birds leave.
Steps for Removing a Bird Trapped in Your Chimney
Here are six easy steps for removing a single bird trapped in your chimney.
You will need a large cardboard box that just fits inside your fireplace, a flashlight, and a piece of inflexible cardboard large enough to cover the box.
- Locate the bird. If the bird is in the chimney, then open the flue.
- Place a large box, open side up, inside your fireplace. You want the box to cover as much of the base of your fireplace as possible. Prop up the box so there is only about an inch (2 or 3 cm) gap between the top of the edges of the box and the top of your fireplace.
- Turn on the flashlight. Lean the box outward and place the flashlight in the bottom of the box. Then push the box back inside your fireplace.
- Make sure the room where you have your fireplace is quiet. Turn off music, television, and telephones. Don’t talk until you have captured the bird. Wait for the bird to enter the box.
- Slip the cardboard cover over the box, trapping the bird inside. Take the box and bird outside, and set the bird free.
If the bird has already found its way into your fireplace, you can trap it with a towel.
Open the fireplace door or fireplace screen just enough to toss the towel over the bird.
Secure the bird inside the towel, and carry the bird to an open window or outdoors to set it free.
Steps for Removing a Bird’s Nest from Your Chimney
Removing a bird’s nest from your chimney requires patience.
You need to check to make sure it is not being used.
Even if it is empty, you need to check it again a few days later to make sure there are no young birds still using the nest.
Once they learn how to fly, birds like chimney swifts spend as much as 99 percent of their time in the air.
However, if young birds are still spending even a few minutes a day in the nest where they hatched, federal law still protects the nest.
Once you are sure the nest has been abandoned, remove it so it cannot be used again.
You will probably need a pole of some kind to knock the nest off the interior sides of your chimney so it falls into your fireplace.
Then, with gloves on your hands, pick it up and take it outdoors to a compost heap, or put it in a garage receptacle with a closed lid.
Wash your hands with warm water and soap even if you wore gloves while you were handling the nest.
Use disposable gloves, or disinfect them with bleach before you use them for other household or garden chores.
What’s the Big Deal About Removing Bird Nests from Your Chimney?
A bird’s nest that blocks a flue can catch on fire. It can block the flow of smoke up your chimney. Fire and smoke can be deadly for your and your family.
Wild birds can transmit diseases. In California and throughout the United States east of the Mississippi River, as well as in Ontario and the Maritime Provinces, birds can carry the ticks that spread Lyme disease.
It is possible to get Lyme disease after handling a dead bird.
Wild birds also can transmit Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), bacteria that cause avian tuberculosis.
Once these bacteria get into your house, they can find their way into shower heads and other plumbing fixtures.
This condition produces many of the same symptoms in people as other forms of tuberculosis, plus severe swelling of the lymph nodes.
Wild birds can also carry the bacteria that cause Salmonella, Campylobacter infections, erysipelas, and histoplasmosis, a disease that endangers both pregnant women and cats.
All of these conditions are potentially deadly for people who have compromised immune systems.
When Should I Call a Chimney Sweep?
If you are not sure whether you have birds in your chimney or not, there are still three situations in which it is best to call a professional chimney sweep.
If you have trouble opening or closing your damper, get a chimney sweep to check out the problem.
There could be a bird’s nest on the damper, although the problem is more likely to be accumulated creosote.
Call a chimney sweep when you smell something like charred meat coming from your chimney. This isn’t due to baked birds. It is also likely to accumulate creosote, which can cause fires and breathing problems.
And have a chimney sweep come out to inspect your chimney every year even if you don’t have any obvious problems.
Chimney sweeps can keep your chimneys bird-free, and take care of any fire hazards.
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