Photo: Sherman’s Chimney Swifts’ Tower



The Althea R. Sherman Project











Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Webcam

 The Critic      A New Mate      An Egg Drop      A New Chapter      Three Eggs      Settled for the Evening      Additional New      Two Eggs      First Egg      Scarth’s Blog 2015      Archive Swifts 2014

Welcome to Althea's Chimney Swift WebCam!

Our internet service provider has not been able to deliver the necessary bandwidth to make live streaming possible this year. We are told that an alternative internet provider will be available by next year.

We had intended to be live streaming this Swift family long before now. This is a massive disappointment for us, in particular because 2015 marks the 100-year Anniversary of Althea Sherman's Chimney Swifts' Tower.

There are 13,792 views from 2014 and from folks looking for us earlier this season. We envisioned introducing many more people to this endearing species and their distinctive behaviors this season. We'll soon be highlighting the conservation efforts underway across the U.S. on behalf of these birds, and the need for more.

In the Blogs:  Our Chimney Swifts: the critic—Barbara Boyle, 06/21-22/16

June 21—Birds were in and out of chimney frequently, several sticks brought in today. Almost as soon as one bird gets a stick glued in place, the other bird enters nest and pushes first bird out. Then it proceeds to carefully inspect the nest. This bird also seemed to deposit a long arc of excess saliva on the wall above the right side of the nest.

This bird then dropped down underneath the other bird, who appeared to be doing some gluing of its own to the base of the nest. The bottom bird gently nibbled the wing tips of the bird above. Very sweet!

One bird brought in a stick at 12:09 PM and glued constantly for nearly five minutes. Each bird spends quite a bit of time assessing fit of nest, and whatever else they check for. They settle in deeply, squirm back and forth. They approach and sit from all different angles. They repeat all these motions each time a stick is added, and often even when no new stick has been placed.

Stick brought in at 4:57 PM and bird worked at gluing and inspecting through 5:04 PM. Left at 5:06 PM then back in at 5:18 PM. One bird gluing, then second bird pushed first off nest again and glued and adjusted by itself. The other bird was right below nest, possibly also gluing.

Birds came in at 7:18 and 7:19 PM. One moved up to nest and sat with its head against the wall. Head was moving along wall in an arc, and bird may have been depositing excess fluid. Second bird joined first on nest and covered first with a wing, then engaged in rubbing heads together.

They are so endearing! The first bird then jumped off and the second proceeded to inspect the nest carefully and try sitting in various positions. Another mating at 7:25PM. They spent the night quietly, for as long as I could watch. Storms necessitated unplugging computer on this end.

June 22—The rain pan looks full this morning. Thunder and lightning at 8:50 AM. Both birds in at 8:51 AM.

Rain pouring down in tower right at 9 a.m. and it just started hailing. Hail stones bouncing off the ladder rungs and flying about the chimney. It all sounds very dramatic through the microphones! Birds huddled close together, hanging quietly about 1.5 feet below the nest.

Birds left chimney at 9:36 AM, sunlight pouring in at 9:56 AM. One bird brought a stick in at 12:38 PM and was on the nest gluing until 12:45 PM. Birds in at 3:15 and another mating at 3:22 p.m.

One bird was on nest and another below when suddenly one flew up in chimney at 3:36 PM. Another confrontation of some sort ensued. Lots of chippering, thunderous wing flapping, debris falling. It will be interesting to see these events when we can access that video.

Another stick was brought in at 5:47 PM. One of these birds really appears to be a critic! The one bird barely gets a stick placed and glued and then the other bird comes into nest. It all appears to be done gently and with much head-rubbing and affection.

The second bird then quite forcefully pushes the other bird out of the nest and proceeds to inspect all new construction. I've commented on this too often already, but I don't recall this behavior nearly to this degree with the previous mate, or with the 2014 and 2015 swift pairs.

There was another heavy rain and hail storm beginning at 5:37 PM. Birds were not in chimney at that time.

At least two more sticks, and possibly three, were brought in before dark. The pair has been roosting side-by-side below the nest since then, preening, stretching wings now and then and seemingly content in each other's company…

Some hours have passed now and while birds have been quietly roosting below or beside nest for most of the night, there have been three occasions when one bird suddenly flew from the wall amidst much wing-flapping and chippering.

It flew frenetically around the walls, lighting briefly but not really grabbing on, then went back to spot next to mate and settled down. Not sure what that's all about… All is calm for now.

© Barbara Boyle—2016

In the Blogs:  Our Chimney Swifts: a new mate—Barbara Boyle, 06/18-20/16

Both birds left the chimney by 5:30 AM and only one returned a few times before 7:30 AM. Both returned at 7:32 AM and there was another commotion above camera view at 7:37 AM. Dust and debris falling but all was quiet shortly thereafter. I could hear the farmers spraying the nearby fields again for most of the morning.

Beginning three days ago, the remote view suddenly and drastically deteriorated. It seems to be an even more dramatic bandwidth issue. No more screen shots unless there is improvement. It has also become far more difficult to see just what is going on. I was unable to view at all for a good portion of the day.

Viewing again from 6:40 PM forward and have witnessed several instances of affection. Much snuggling and head rubbing. One bird covered the other with its wing in the "swift embrace." They both exited the chimney chirping. The birds returned just before dark and roosted peacefully as the night went on.

I'd sent a note to Kyles about the new mate, the egg dump and the missing juvie. I received this response today:

Fascinating! We've never experienced this behavior in Chimney Swifts. It has been documented in other avian species including swallows. We have seen it ourselves with Canyon Wrens. It is probably the male that removed the eggs to give his own progeny the best chance for survival. It may also be the case that the new male will not allow the offspring from last year to remain in the tower.

Great observations! We hope you will continue to keep good notes and write it up for us to include in the next issue of Chaetura.

Best regards,
Paul and Georgean Kyle

So that's cool! It would be extraordinary if something currently significant is revealed from the activities of swifts now residing within, of all places, the very structure where Chimney Swift observation began 101 years ago! What a tribute that would be to Althea and her original Chimney Swifts' Tower! Makes me cry! Even though we can't readily access it yet, I'm so grateful that all of this is being recorded!

June 19—One bird left at 5:32 AM then back in at 5:33 AM. Both left at 5:34 AM. They were in and out several times during the day. There was a mating attempt at 3:26 PM and another at 5:19 PM. Not sure if these encounters were successful, but after the 5:19 PM attempt, male climbed to nest, female was beside nest. They cleaned each other's bills and rubbed heads together several times. Then both were on nest and doing much snuggling. Very sweet!

What looked like certain mating success occurred at 7:21 PM. Birds left chimney at 7:32 PM.

Birds came in at 8:08 PM. One bird on nest right away, another below nest. Bird on nest had a stick! It's possible this wasn't the first stick brought in, but it is the first I've seen in this chapter with the second mate. This stick was added to the existing nest.

With much pouring of saliva/glue, the stick was placed along the front edge of the nest. After securing the stick in place, the bird squirmed around in the nest, checking for fit. The bird then grasped the top edge of nest and rocked back and forth, as if checking for strength. It pulled quite forcefully on one of the sticks. Then the other bird entered nest and the two settled, rubbing heads together.

Shortly after that, one bird flew to base of nest and may have applied a bit more glue. The other bird snuggled into nest, assessing the fit, then repeated the snuggling-in actions from the front, then sat sideways, then front again, then sat sideways from the other direction.

At 11:41 PM there was another disturbance of some sort. Lots of chittering and one bird engaged in lots of wing-flapping, fluttering and jumping around all the walls. The other bird stayed calm through all of this, though both were chittering. Not sure what that was all about…they both settled after that.

June 20—Birds in and out several times through the morning. Screen images are so poor that it's difficult to tell if sticks are being brought in, though little to no gluing behavior has been seen early in the day.

At 1:23 PM a stick was brought in and again applied to existing nest. At least so far, there is no indication that this newly mated pair will start their own new nest. It appeared that this stick was attached further towards the back of the nest, on the right side. The other bird came to check it out as soon as placement was completed, at 1:26 PM.

There was another very brief mating attempt at 1: 27 PM which did not appear successful, then one bird climbed back onto nest. They both left at 1:34 PM.

From that time until 7:42 PM only one bird came in, on several occasions. Sometimes sitting on nest, other times below or next to nest.

One bird came in 9:03 PM and most likely had a stick, though I could not see it. The bird did spend the next four minutes pouring the glutinous saliva in various parts of the nest. The second bird came in at 9:08.

Both birds roosted peacefully, sometimes close together, sometimes a bit apart, one or the other occasionally on the nest. There has been some additional gluing when on the nest. All has been quiet up to the midnight hour…

© Barbara Boyle—2016

In the Blogs:  Our Chimney Swifts: an egg drop—Barbara Boyle, 06/17/16...continued

A Correction: In the previous update (June 11-17), I had guessed that the female climbed onto the nest after a mating attempt. Later that night I was reading Paul and Georgean Kyle's book, Chimney Swifts—America's Mysterious Birds Above the Fireplace. They write that after mating it is the male who climbs to the nest. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Chimney Swifts.

At last report, our female had found a new mate, and the three eggs were gone from the nest in the early morning. I asked Jody (our web camera guy) to rewind the video to see what had happened to the eggs. At 2:11 AM one bird was hanging onto base of nest, the other bird was on the top edge of nest. Jody said the topmost bird leaned into the nest and:

Its head went around and around and around and then spun the first egg out of the nest, and then the second egg out of the nest, boom, boom, very quickly. The third egg was still there and the bird was trying to push it out but had some trouble rolling it to the edge of the nest, couldn't get it out at first. Then at 2:12 AM the bird flipped the last egg out.

The bird that disposed of the eggs then flew to the bottom of the wall and was joined there a few seconds later by the second bird. Both birds then flew higher up in chimney, out of camera range, though one soon came back down. Jody did not review any more of the video at that time.

I had guessed that it was the female who tossed the eggs, having waited until she found another mate. The Kyles suggest that it was the male who most likely dispatched the eggs. I will be far more careful about surmising, and about assuming the genders of these birds.

Following a successful mating of the new pair at 5:48 AM that morning I saw three more mating attempts. Not sure if they were successful.

In the afternoon, one bird was hanging directly above the other. The lower bird reached its head up and very gently "beaked" along the wing tips of the other bird, like a tender nibbling. It did this three or four times. Then the bird above scooted down just a bit and rested its wing tips on the shoulders of the lower bird. It all seemed very affectionate.

At one point in the evening one bird seemed to be doing a bit of gluing on the nest. The other bird climbed up onto the nest and after some pushing and much flapping of wings, both ended up under the nest. Another mating occurred at 7:53 PM. This male is after the female a lot!

There was a commotion at 9:34 PM, most of which occurred above camera view in the upper chimney. We have audio now and there was a mighty ruckus of flapping wings and much loud chittering by more than one bird. Lots of dust and debris was falling into camera view.

One bird remained in lower level, chittering constantly, and was clearly distressed. It flew all around, trying to land in various places on all four walls, floundering and having difficulty grabbing hold of the walls. At 9:39 PM the second bird came back down and the distressed bird quieted right away.

I can't access the other cameras until our computer issues are resolved but we will eventually be able to view what occurred. I suspect that the male chased last year's offspring from the chimney.

I don't know what might have become of the juvie if this were the case. It was already dark at that time. This probable offspring from last year has not been seen since the night of June 16th, the new male's first night of occupancy.

The new pair settled near each other after all this and roosted close together quietly as the night went on.

© Barbara Boyle—2016

In the Blogs:  #6 Sherman Tower Chimney Swifts: birds go missing—06/11-17/16

At the last update, a third egg had been laid, determining that the survivor of the pair is the female. That night, one of the two presumed offspring also went missing and has not been seen since.

These two birds, as well as the mated pair, had been in the chimney each night since May 20. We'll never know if this bird perished, too, but hopefully, it found a mate and a nest site of its own.

Today, June 11, the female returned to the chimney frequently during the day, for very short periods of time. She would land near (occasionally on) the nest, but then depart in a minute or less. This occurred so many times, and was unlike any previous behavior.

The one remaining offspring joined her just before dark and the two roosted together.

I was on site on Sunday, June 12, and watched the swift I presumed was the female fly over the tower with a second swift following her. She dipped a wing each time when directly over the chimney, but flew on, second bird right behind. Then on a second or third pass, she dropped into the chimney.

The second bird swooped right over chimney and seemed near to dropping in, but then veered off each time. A minute or less later the female left the chimney and continue flying with the second bird. This behavior was repeated many times, and offered a visual context outside the tower for the frequent, short visits I was seeing inside the chimney through the cameras.

I was wondering if this could be an attempt by the female to entice a new mate into the chimney...

During the day on June 13, the female's quick forays into the chimney continued. In two separate stops, she sat on the eggs for roughly five minutes. She did this twice that I saw, but eggs had been moved on a few other occasions.

On June 14, many of the short stopovers into the chimney occurred throughout the day, most lasting under a minute. During the night, the bird sat on the eggs for upwards of three hours. It was quite cool that night.


The frequent and brief visits to the chimney continued during the daytime of June 15. Only very brief egg-sitting was witnessed during the day, and none through the night. The one juvie came in just before dark each of these nights.

There was no activity on June 16 until mid-afternoon when two birds came in at 2:53 PM. The offspring only roosted in the tower at night and this was the first time that a second bird, other than the original mate, had entered the chimney during the daytime since May 8.

Within 10 minutes of their arrival it appeared that mating occurred, just below the nest. Both birds seemed quite awkward and it wasn't clear whether they were successful. Then the bird I'm guessing is the female climbed onto the nest. Both left shortly thereafter.

Both came into the chimney again in the early evening and stayed for nearly 30 minutes before leaving, then returned just before dark. I was unsure at that time whether this was the female and a male, or the offspring who had been coming to the chimney all along.

Twice one bird appeared to climb onto the other in what may have been mating attempts, but they didn't seem successful. That did indicate it was a male suitor and not the offspring. There were also periods of togetherness and snuggling. One bird sat on the eggs briefly a few times.

I tuned in again just before 5 AM June 17. Two birds were low on the chimney wall, not very close together. I was stunned to see that the three eggs were gone from the nest. The birds left the chimney at 5:27 AM.

They returned at 5:40 AM and what appeared to be a successful mating occurred at 5:48 AM So, it seems that we are beginning a whole new chapter with the Sherman Tower Chimney Swifts of 2016!

PS—A correction - In the update above for June 16, I had guessed that the female climbed onto the nest after a mating attempt. Later that night I was reading Paul and Georgean Kyle's book Chimney Swifts; America's Mysterious Birds Above the Fireplace. The Kyles write that after mating it is the male who climbs to the nest. I stand corrected, and highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Chimney Swifts.

© Barbara Boyle—2016

In the Blogs:  #5 Sherman Tower Chimney Swifts: three eggs—06/10/16

Photo: 3 Swift eggs in the nest.

Three eggs in the nest.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

Well, there are three Chimney Swift eggs in the nest this morning. I didn't think there would be an update quite so soon!

So now we know that the female swift is still with us.

Our tech person will try to improve the screen images within the next couple days, but for now, we still have fuzzy pics.

In the Blogs:  #4 Sherman Tower Chimney Swifts: settled in for the evening—06/09/16

The two younger birds left the chimney at earliest light this morning. The remaining adult bird sat on the nest for some time, then hung below nest for awhile. S/he finally left the chimney at 6:44 AM and hasn't been back in since. No further nest-building activity.

The Kyles, our Chimney Swift mentors did reply to my questions about what might happen next:

Sad to say, but if something did happen to one of the parents, the nest will probably be abandoned. However, chances are fair that the surviving bird will find another mate and start a new nest since it is still early in the season. We have seen it happen before.

We lost one of the pair in the South Tower earlier this year, probably to a Screech Owl. They had started a nest but not yet laid any eggs. Finally, the surviving bird (we assume) and another started and completed a new nest. They started laying eggs about a week ago.

We have often thought that having the cameras is a curse as well as a blessing. You not only see the good but the bad and sad as well. And usually there is nothing you can do but watch.

Best Regards,
Paul and Georgean Kyle

Project Directors
Chimney Swift Conservation Association

Sanctuary Stewards
Travis Audubon's Chaetura Canyon Sanctuary

I also asked if there was anything we should do, such as removing the eggs or nest. They replied:

We would suggest that you leave things exactly as they are. Chimney Swifts are very sensitive to changes. Just let them sort it out on their own terms in their own time.

Best regards,
Paul and Georgean Kyle

So, that's the plan.

Thank you, Jim, for sending the links to Linda and Robert Scarth's blog posts on the Sherman Chimney Swifts. And thank you, Linda and Robert, for documenting our swifts! Here is the lastest link to the nest with two eggs, and the oddly-placed stick referred to earlier.

Here is the link to Scarth's archived Swift Blog from 2014-present.

It's evening now and one bird just came in at 8:48 PM and settled below the nest. This is most likely the adult bird. The youngsters have been arriving later than the adults for the last couple weeks.

A second bird arrived at 8:55 PM. A third bird arrived at 9:05 PM.

We will continue with our efforts to bring the Chimney Swifts' WebCam to you as soon as possible. This step is a huge part of our dedication to Althea Sherman and her pioneering study of Chimney Swifts, and important for being filmed from within her original Chimney Swifts' Tower.

Thank you all for your interest, and for your patience with my long updates.

© Barbara Boyle—2016

Photo: Swifts settled below the nest.

Three birds settled for the night.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

In the Blogs:  #3 Sherman Tower Chimney Swifts: additional news—06/08/16

There have been some new developments since the earlier announcement about two eggs. The last screen shot of the pair working on the nest was taken at 9:52 AM and they left the chimney shortly thereafter. I noticed a lone swift under the nest a little after 11 AM. The bird stayed unusually still in this position for nearly four hours. This was very unlike previous behavior, with one or usually both birds coming and going, bringing in sticks and "hanging out" for short periods of time.

The second bird was no longer in attendance.

It is nearly impossible to differentiate male from female swifts. The Scarths have documented lighter shoulder epaulettes on what is believed to be the male. But we can't be sure which bird is missing from these screen shots. I asked Georgean Kyle (swift experts at <>) about this development. She reported that a lone swift will sometimes spend an unusual amount of inactive time in the chimney, though this commonly occurs closer to migration in fall. We didn't focus as much on the missing bird at that time.

The lone bird left a little before 3 PM and no birds returned to chimney until just before dark. The one mated bird returned and the two offspring came in right after that. The behavior of the three birds was not indicative of a mated pair. All the birds are peaceful and snuggle together, but the mated pair was very affectionate with one another. They frequently worked on nest improvements. There was none of that going on.

So, this doesn't bode well for our swift family. Of course, we'll probably never know what happened. The Scarths reported that the crop fields were sprayed on Monday (two days ago).The bird could have flown through the chemical spray or, more likely, eaten poisoned insects. Or, given the bird's sudden dissapearance a hawk, an owl, or a vehicle could have taken it out, or any number of other perils in nature...

The missing bird is likely a casualty, and the first one we know of for the Sherman swift families from 2014 on. The families have all left for migration and returned complete. Given the high mortality rate of Chimney Swifts, we are grateful for that.

We don't know what might happen next. Will the one bird seek a new mate and leave this nest? That's possible. Will one bird incubate the two eggs? Will last year's offspring help? There are many documented instances of helper birds among the swifts. This is an educational journey for all of us.

© Barbara Boyle—2016

Photo: strangely-placed stick in the nest.

Last image of the first pair.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

Photo: lone bird hanging below the nest.

Lone bird below the nest.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

Photo: 3 swifts in the Tower after dark.

Only three birds hanging in the Tower after dark.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

In the Blogs:  #2 Sherman Tower Chimney Swifts: two eggs!—06/08/16

A second Chimney Swift egg was laid early this morning! The swift pair continued to add more sticks to the nest. They poured more gluey saliva to specific areas. It appeared that there was another instance of teamwork in gluing a long (and oddly placed!) stick into the front of the nest, and reinforcing the underside of the nest. The images have been soft/fuzzy the last few days so it's difficult to be sure about the teamwork part. But this pair is off to a great start! The nest is far more substantial so far than last year's nest, and the pair will continue to add to it.

There are four swifts in the chimney each night. The extra two are most likely offspring from last year. There were five (!) one night, indicating all the birds from last year's family survived their round-trip migration. They are all very gentle with each other, often snuggling and piling up together in a tight clump. None ever appear bothered when another jostles and preens. They do this a lot and are rarely still.

Althea wrote in "The Home Life of the Chimney Swift," from Birds of An Iowa Dooryard, "Unlike young Flickers, the swifts are never quarrelsome. During the many summers of intimate living with the Chimney Swift, I have never found it a subject for criticism in any respect—no evil has been detected in its relations with its own or with other species. In short, it appears to be a paragon of perfection—the bird that properly might be chosen as the emblem of peace."

Even though we're not able to live stream (Windstream = insufficient bandwidth), we are recording everything this year, getting footage from three different camera views. We're working on setting up a Sherman Facebook page and also plan to post Chimney Swift videos on YouTube. The recorded images straight from the cameras are much better than what you see here, especially over the last few days.

We have wonderful recordings of all the nest building activities, and even of the swifts mating. We've captured teamwork with the mated pair. After gluing, the swifts often clean each other's beaks. Then they rub their heads together or cover one another with a wing. These tender gestures appear to be genuine affection (to humans, anyway).

We're very eager to share these fascinating and endearing moments of Chimney Swift family life. We also plan to select and post excerpts/observations from Althea's Chimney Swift journals and then show the swift activities related to those observations.

As mentioned in some of the notifications that went out about the first egg, we just discovered that our old, un-updatable computers won't support the DVR and editing software. We really do need a new Mac and are researching options. We're unsure just how soon we'll be able to get this wonderful footage online, but we are working on it.

© Barbara Boyle—2016

Photo: two eggs in the nest.

Two eggs.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

Photo: Teamwork by two Swifts.


© Barbara Boyle, 2016

In the Blogs:  #1 Sherman Tower Chimney Swifts: first egg!—06/05/16

The first Chimney Swift egg of 2016 seen at 7:56:44 AM! It was probably not laid at that precise moment, but that's when mom left the nest, revealing it. It was not there last night. She remained on nest after the other birds (four have been in the Tower each night) left this morning. She stayed very still for quite some time, then twisted sideways a bit, appeared to be spreading a bit more gluey saliva. Then she flew, revealing the egg. So, here we go!

We believe the two extra birds are offspring from last year. They do not come into the chimney during the day. But they come in each night just before dark and snuggle with the parent pair. The parent pair has been building the nest and adding sticks since May 18. There have been a few occasions where one bird seems to hold the stick and the other glues it in place. Often the second bird is there in case needed, it appears, as it rests nearby while the other glues the stick.

Even though we're not able to live stream, we are recording everything this year, getting footage from three different camera views. Now we're struggling with old computers that won't support the software for editing. We need a new Mac! There's always something...but we're working on it.

© Barbara Boyle—2016

Swifts inside the Tower.

Last year's offspring and a new parent pair.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

Photo: 4 little birds in the Tower.

Four birdies lined up.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

Photo: Mom on the nest.

Mom on the nest.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

Photo: An egg!

The first egg.

© Barbara Boyle, 2016

In the Blogs:  Field Guide—Linda & Robert Scarth, 03/15-07/15

Renowned nature photographers Linda and Robert Scarth have been visiting the Tower just about every other day! We are so fortunate and grateful that they are keeping a photographic and written record of 2015's nest life!

The Scarth's blog Field Notes about the Sherman Tower's 2015 Chimney Swifts:

• Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower—03/24/15

• Chimney Swifts Back in Tower—05/28/15

• Chimney Swifts' Progress—06/12/15

• Chimney Swift Update—06/17/15

• Nest Expansion—06/25/15

Discovery Day—06/30/15

Feather Buds—07/02/15

Four Days Old on July 4th—07/05/15

• One Week Old Today—07/07/15



92º in the Shade—07/13/15

Only a Mother Could Love—07/15/15

Days 17 & 18—07/18/15

Wall Birds—07/20/15


Rainy Day—07/25/15

Empty Nest & Empty Chimney—07/26/15


Photo: portrait of Althea R. Sherman

Althea Rosina Sherman

© Oberlin College Archives

Contact Us
1033 E. Washington St   •   Iowa City, IA 52240-5248
319.668.1838   •

updated       07.29.16
Grafic: pen and ink drawing of Sherma’s Chimney Swifts’ Tower by William J. Wagner, AIA

Sherman’s Chimney Swifts' Tower

© William J. Wagner, FAIA (1965)