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what are chimney sweep birds ?


Chimney Sweep Birds are a common name given to several species of birds that clean ectoparasites from the bodies of other birds. They belong to a group referred to as cleaner wrasse, which also includes cleaner fish and cleaner shrimp. These organisms remove parasites and dead tissue from other animals while these other animals remain stationary.

Although the Chimney Sweep birds are commonly referred to as “Birds” they actually belong to a group within the Gobiidae family, which also includes the Mono, Perch and Loach. The Chimney Sweep is notable for it’s ability to clean ectoparasites from other sea life including Sea Birds (i.e. Pelicans), Sea Mammals (i.e. Whales) and even other fish. They use their bristled tongues to remove parasites such as ticks, leeches, lice and barnacles from the surface of the skin or feathers of these animals.

The Chimney Sweep birds are small in size and typically do not exceed 11cm in length. Their coloration varies according to species, however most are brown or yellowish with a black stripe running down the side of their bodies [6].

The cleaners often work out of small burrows they’ve dug along shorelines and where other aquatic animals may come to them [7][8]. However, the Chimney Sweep birds are not always working. When there isn’t an active cleaning event occurring they can be seen dispersing along shorelines or even resting upside down on nearby rocks [9][10]. Chimney Sweep Birds are also known to forage for food alone, in pairs or in small flocks [11][12].

Chimney Sweep birds primarily feed on ectoparasites such as lice and copepods, as well as small marine invertebrates and algaes [1][6]. They will also ingest small amounts of sand and other materials to help assist with the digestion of these parasites [12].

Chimney Sweep birds have been known to perform cleaning behaviors on a variety of species including other fish, sea turtles, seabirds and even marine mammals. In the video below you can see Chimney Sweep Birds working on several large Sea Turtles.

Chimney Sweep Birds are widely distributed throughout tropical waters around the world. However, little is known about the population status of these birds due to their small size and pelagic habitats. For example, Ornate Sweep Birds are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. However, this status does not take into consideration the impact of fisheries on populations of these birds.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Ornate Sweep Bird is heavily exploited by fisheries throughout it’s range for it’s flesh and eggs. With an estimated population of between 500,000 to 1 million birds killed per year, these numbers are considered unsustainable [18].

Currently there are no conservation programs in place to protect Chimney Sweep Birds at any level. If you would like to help support these birds please consider donating to the following organizations. Your donation will ensure that species such as Chimney Sweep Birds will be around for future generations to enjoy.

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