Jeff Wallace

Jeff Wallace

After the movie “The Birds” came out in 1963, I was terrified of flying creatures for weeks.

The Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren had me looking skyward in fear each time I left the house.

“The Birds” is set in a seaside town near San Francisco when birds suddenly begin attacking people causing a few deaths and lots of injuries and mayhem. The two stars have their share of run-ins with creatures during the course of the film, including a memorable scene in which Hedren is attacked while seeking refuge in a telephone booth.

It still gives me chills just thinking about that scene and the one in which she goes into an upstairs bedroom invaded by a flock of birds that attack her. That brings to mind a question. Why would anyone open the door to a room after the house has been under siege by angry birds? Keep the door shut!

The nerve-wracking ride of “The Birds” was resurrected in my mind a few weeks ago as I was sitting in the living room reading the morning newspaper. With pencil out to work on the day’s puzzles, I was startled to hear an unusual sound – the flutter of wings.

The sound seemed to be emanating from the fireplace or near it. The fluttering came and went, came and went. For several days this kept up, and I paid little attention to what was happening.

A year or so ago when one of the remnants of a hurricane blew through Aiken, the metal chimney cap came down, evidence of the power of wind gusts. The shiny silver top was set in the garage until someone with a tall ladder could be located to replace it. That has not yet happened.

Two or three weeks after the fluttering sounds began, a new noise could be heard. The peeping sound appeared to come from just above the fireplace damper. Over the course of several days it changed to occasional squeaking with an increase in volume as the days passed.

It was apparent that a bird had constructed a nest in the chimney mere inches from our dwelling space and was raising a family. And the noise kept getting louder. For much of the day and all night, there wasn’t so much as a peep. Then the noise that sounded like 50 wobbly, squeaking scooter wheels began with great intensity.

I imagined that the parents were arriving and providing a meal with the little ones squawking their loudest to get the attention of Mom or Dad.

Just as suddenly as the noise began, it would stop. (Parents flying off to get more food?)

After a couple of weeks of peeping and squeaking and squawking, I started to get worried. What if some dumb bird had flown down the chimney to build its nest, but the little ones wouldn’t be able to fly the 20 feet straight up when it was time for them to fledge? How long could they last in the chimney? What could be done? What kind of bird would do something like that?

The Aiken Standard prints a weekly column, Ecoviews, by renowned scientist Whit Gibbons. With his love and knowledge of animals, he would be someone with the answers. I sent an email and received the answers.

The most likely culprit was a chimney swift, Whit said. They nest in this area in the summer and leave on a fall migration to Peru.

“They will leave when the young fledge and presumably they have no problem getting to the top of the chimney,” he wrote. “They’ve been doing it since we invented chimneys.”

Those words gave me some comfort, as well as his reminder to get a chimney sweep to remove the nest (and to get the cap replaced).

I checked an online site from the Humane Society of the United States. The birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and nests with eggs or young cannot be disturbed. The site cautioned readers to tolerate the sounds of the young and wait for fall to have nests removed and caps reinserted at chimney tops.

Now I am biding my time until the birds make like smoke and go up the chimney. At least I know that this is not an invasion of birds like those in the Hitchcock movie. 

Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.