Friday, March 29, 2013

Birds in the chimney: Shoo, cat, shoo!

Cats clustered around a chimney
Looks like Maggie and Lucy have a long spring ahead of them.
Over the last 2 days, cats Maggie and Lucy have been spending an inordinate amount of time in the living room, clustered around the fireplace. Sometimes, they even stand on their hind legs and reach up into the chimney itself, making little chittering noises with each move they make. I can't hear anything at all, but I'm deeply suspicious that we have a little flock of birds nesting in our chimney.

The Salem neighborhood I live in plays host to several flocks of birds. We have traditional Oregon birds like chickadees, jays and crows, but we also have some starlings, which are new birds for me. These birds have amazing vocabularies, including a pretty convincing wolf-whistle, and I've seen a couple creating a pretty big nest in my neighbor's garage. I've also seen a few starlings making a nest in the covered gutters other neighbors have neglected to clean. When I saw the cats hovering by the chimney, I just assumed that we had our own starling infestation, since I've seen these guys building all sorts of nests around here.

Turns out, we could have a protected bird living in our home. Chimney swifts are not uncommon in Oregon, and these guys love to build nests inside warm, unused brick towers like mine. Unlike starlings, which are loud, these guys are pretty much silent, which would explain why I can't hear them at all at this point. Birds like this are migratory, and according to federal law, they can't be removed. Destroying the nests could bring me a big fine, and even tapping on the nest or molesting the birds could get me in trouble. (Read more about that here.) I'm not sure how this law applies to starlings, because I don't think they migrate, but I'm still not taking any chances.

I've scheduled a chimney expert to come out, and when he arrives, he'll scope out the tunnel and take a peek at the birds that might be living in there. If these are chimney swifts, we'll have to leave them in peace until the fall, when we can clean out their nests and cap the chimney off. If they're starlings, well, I don't know what happens.

In the interim, I need to convince my little hunters that they can relax and leave the little birds alone. I'm worried about what will happen if these birds have chicks and these little guys call out for food, but I am thinking loud classical music might drown out the cheeps and give the birds a little pleasure at the same time. At least I hope so.