Chimney swifts can seem like an annoying menace to some people. In the United States, you can be fined if a fire occurs because of them or if you kill them while trying to remove them. Unfortunately, once they are established, they can also increase your fire risk. So where does this leave you, the homeowner? In this instance, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Learn about these birds and how they can impact a wood burning stove in the article below.
Why Chimney Swifts Love Chimneys
Chimney swifts were present throughout the United States long before humans, but infiltration of their habitat has led to them adapting to buildings. The development of the chimney over time was quite literally the perfect place for them to settle down.
It really doesn't seem like a logical place for a bird to sleep. After all, it's constantly filled with smoke during cold weather, and ash may rain down on their nests. But your chimney has one thing that a doorway or a tree stump doesn't have--it's warm and sheltered.
By roosting directly near the top, they retain access to fresh air while still enjoying the same delicious warmth from below. With weather that can drop to as low as -10 F or more, that can be a very big factor in deciding where to raise their young.
Why Are Swifts Dangerous for Wood-Burning Stoves?
The presence of chimney swifts in the flue itself can be extremely dangerous, especially if you aren't aware they are present. They can cause chimney fires that may spread to the rest of your home or business. The fire usually starts not because of the birds themselves, but because of items that are dropped from the nest.
Sticks, branches, and even feather dander can become caught on bricks or creosote in any area between the nest and your wood-burning stove. All it takes is a single spark to float up in the right direction and you now have a much bigger concern on your hands.
Regular maintenance of the flue can help to prevent this, but there is a second concern that most people don't consider.
The Risk of Histoplasmosis
Chimney swift feces very often contains a pathogen called histoplasmosis. According to this article by the Government of Indiana, both bat droppings and bird droppings can be released back into your wood-burning stove. While the risk isn't that high for the average healthy individual, anyone who is immunocompromised, elderly, or very young can become infected simply by coming into contact with it.
To make matters worse, droppings are so small that you aren't likely to notice them while cleaning out ashes or moving wood.
Why You Shouldn't Just Exterminate
Because humans have recognized for so long that chimney swifts are a risk, there's been a long-standing practice of simply killing them off when a flock roostsMuch as with other nuisance animals, like the gray wolf, this quickly decimated their numbers and threatened their existence.
In the United States, the chimney swift is protected under the Migratory Birds Act. Every part of their nesting, eggs and young must be handled in a very specific way, and you can't simply remove an active nest without permission and assistance. That means that even if there is a fire risk, you cannot remove them on your own.
So what can you do?
In this instance, prevention is the true way to go. Start by ensuring that your wood burning stove from a firm like Alpine Fireplaces is installed correctly with the right chimney, flue and connection materials. The next step is to keep your system clean--and that includes everything from the stove itself to the top of your chimney.
You will need to:
- Sweep out the ashes once they reach a 1" depth within the stove--be sure to only do this when your stove is completely cool
- Use a certified chimney sweep to remove excess creosote in the chimney a few times per year
- Hire a contractor at least once yearly to inspect your system for cracks or leaks
- Be sure to use your wood burning stove as per the owner's manual, as you may have model-specific maintenance requirements
Doing the above will help to ensure that, should swifts find their way in, you'll at least have a better chance of preventing a fire until the problem can be dealt with. But there's an additional recommended step: install a chimney cap to prevent the birds from even entering your system.
How a Chimney Cap Works
A chimney cap sits at the very top of your chimney. Much as the name suggests, it provides a small hat-like structure that has the ability to prevent animals or water from entering the flue. According to this article, they also block downdrafts, help to prevent sparks, and prevent debris from sticking to the sides of your chimney. That means less smoke will return down the flue to your wood burning stove, escaping into your home or business.
Installing a chimney cap is a relatively easy process for those who have a bit of experience with home renovation. Once purchased, they can simply be attached to the flue with sheet metal screws and heat-proof silicone sealant. Once chimney caps are installed, chimney swifts won't have the ability to make themselves at home, as their bodies are too big to fit through the cap.
It is far, far more difficult to remove them than to prevent them in the first place, so this step is vital for anyone who has concerns about swifts.
Having the ability to burn wood for heat can be an amazing boon, but it does require a bit of work on your part. Practicing good stove and chimney maintenance and management can help to prevent issues with swifts before they occur. Overall, this can save you money and preserve your ability to heat your home. For questions about this or any other issue related to your system, contact a wood burning stove specialist today.