Flight of the Chimney Swift: Student Brings Awareness to Threatened Species

The Kent State seal features a soaring chimney swift, yet few people are aware of the bird’s importance to the local ecosystem and the threat humans pose to its survival.

“Humans have actually destroyed their habitat,” said Caitlyn Skilton, a senior zoology major. “They're going to become extinct eventually if we keep destroying their habitats.”

Skilton, who has a photojournalism minor, wanted to help others gain an appreciation for the chimney swift and its role in the environment. So, she decided to create an immersive experience in the Design Innovation Hub’s Blank_Lab.

Photo of Caitlyn Skilton in Blank_Lab.

The chimney swift gets its name from its preferred nesting place – chimneys – and speed of flight. However, the birds originally lived in caves and tree cavities. As urbanization expanded, the species ventured into chimneys for roosting.

Now, its last chance for a habitat is also threatened. As homeowners cap chimneys, particularly out of the belief that chimney swifts are a pest, the species’ population continues to decline.

“They're very important for the ecosystem,” Skilton said. “For humans, they help control insect populations, and they're also just an overall good indicator of habitat health.”

Because Ohio is a major migration center for the birds, Skilton gathered all of the video for the project on her own – at one point scaling the Kent Stage chimney. When viewers entered the room, they found themselves surrounded by the image and song of the chimney swift in flight.

The exhibition also builds upon the research of the late Ralph Dexter, a former biology professor at Kent State who spent decades researching the species. His research led to the inclusion of the chimney swift on the university’s seal and the construction of purpose-built chimneys for roosting in Kent.

Chimney Swifts appear on tiles on structure in Downtown Kent.

Skilton said she hopes her project can continue Dexter’s legacy of advocating for chimney swift’s distinct role on campus.

“I want people to have a greater appreciation for not only chimney swifts, but just the environment in general,” Skilton said.

The exhibit ran from Nov. 27 to Dec. 6. A reception was held on Dec. 1 with conversation on the chimney swift.

POSTED: Monday, December 11, 2023 11:18 AM
Updated: Monday, December 11, 2023 11:46 AM
Alton Northup