SWALLOWS may be the winged wonders of spring but they can test our patience when they choose to nest over a window or door.
Cleaning up the mess from their droppings can be frustrating for even the most avid wildlife lover and it’s the price we have to pay for the joy of watching their antics as they swoop after insects on summer nights.
There’s also the joy of watching the breeding cycle, the courtship displays, nest building and the rearing of young.
Unfortunately, I don’t have welcome swallows nesting under the eaves, or over the doorways, of my home and I have to go to the Waterworks Reserve close-by to study nests in one of the barbecue shelters there. Each year a pair of welcome swallows nest under the beams of the shelter and even though the shelter is in frequent use, they manage to rear two or three young.
The patrons of the public shelters obviously don’t mind about the mess from droppings splattering the floor but at a private home it can be a nuisance, as I have said.
At the end of the swallow breeding season in February this year I received an anguished email from an animal lover with swallows at her property.
She wrote: “Swallows have chosen to nest on my front patio for several years now.
Despite the mess, it’s been absolutely marvellous to watch their efforts and ultimately see the young ones leave the nest and gain their flying skills.
“They feed over a creek adjacent to my home and it’s all rather perfect – except this year they chose to build a new nest on a beam at the top of the front door. You can imagine the ducking and diving we’ve all been doing to get in and out of the house for the past two to three months, also guests asked to sneak out quietly so as not to disturb them into flight at night …. all quite hilarious really.
“The birds and I eyeball each other over one metre at most. Why they would choose such a high traffic zone (instead of their original spot over in the corner) is beyond me.
“Although I have enormous respect and liking for these incredible travellers, scrubbing poop off the front step, patio, cars, fence, walls, pot plants, every day for months is all starting to wear thin now … you see the problem!”
The reader had a query is: how could she best convey the message next season that the swallows were very welcome to nest, but not over the front door.
She offered her own solution of removing the nest once the swallows had left, but she thought the swallows would be just as likely to build another. There were now four complete or half-built nests – aborted attempts – along the same beam.
As I explained in my answering email, my experience in the past has been in helping swallows to build nests – namely supplying them with mud during dry periods, either in a try or watering a muddy patch on the lawn.
But a search of the internet revealed that the reader is not alone in her concern about the nests. One writer on an American website – the barn swallow there is closely related to the welcome swallow here – suggested hanging a piece of fabric or netting at the potential nest site. She said the flapping would deter them.
Another course of action is to destroy the nests once swallows start to built, destroying them time and again, until the swallows get the message. But once they had nests, and young, destroying nests, and ultimately young, would be against the law, because swallows are protected species.
Another method is to construct a simple shelf or beam at a spot where you don’t mind the swallows nesting, possibly away from doors and windows. Swallows would be likely to anchor a nest on this. This beam should be short and not too wide, fastened to a wall about 10 centimetres under an overhang like an eave, in shadow out of the direct rays of the sun, and sheltered from wind.
The shelf should be short, and high up, so that snakes cannot gain a foothold. Even if this is unlikely the swallows might be a little nervous about the snake hazard, because tiger snakes especially are good climbers and can smell eggs and young.