And What You Can Do to Deter Them

by Alex A. Kecskes

Swallows are sleek, slender birds typically found in North America. They are very territorial, returning to the same nesting site in the spring and summer. Once confined to cliffs, swallows have become a growing nuisance in suburban areas. Instead of attaching their nests to cliffs, many prefer man-made sites like the wood beams and stucco of modern houses. They often build their characteristic mud nests in the outer walls and eaves of homes. (One home was "decorated" with at least 32 swallow abodes constructed of hardened mud.) Left on your home long enough, swallow nests will leave an unsightly stain.

A colony of birds will also leave a trail of droppings down the sides of your home and the ground below. Property owners spend time and money cleaning up the mess and concern over the slip-and-fall hazards from swallow droppings. The bacteria, fungal agents and parasites found in swallow droppings and nests can carry hosts with serious diseases, including histoplasmosis, encephalitis, salmonella, meningitis, toxoplasmosis and more.

Worse yet, swallow mud nests are often infested with insects. The insects tend to move into your home to find new hosts. Even when swallows leave, their vacant nests simply attract new birds.

Homeowners should be rightly concerned about swallows nesting on their homes, but there are limitations to what one can do. You see, swallows and their nests are fully protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which makes it illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take any migratory bird. It is also illegal to intentionally damage or destroy the nest, eggs, or young of a swallow while it is being built or in use. The Act allows fines or prison sentences for every bird, egg or nest destroyed.

Fortunately, there are some swallow deterrents one can use that are both effective and humane. 

Many sailors have a real love affair with their boats. They may not have a fancy yacht, a 50-foot trawler or some go-fast "cigarette," but they're always sanding, painting or cleaning their boat every chance they get. A clean, ship-shape boat says a lot about its owner. And most owners say a lot about their boat—to friends, family, fellow sailors, even strangers. One thing they all have in common is their disdain for pest birds. Which brings us to a major problem faced by virtually every boat owner.

Problem: Pest birds come in all sizes and shapes--gulls, cormorants, pelicans and pigeons. They love to flock around your masts, spreaders and riggings. And what they leave behind isn't pretty: bird droppings that smell and deface and eat into everything: canvas covers, rigging, sails, radar antenna gear, just about every surface on your boat. Brazen gulls will fearlessly squat on your boat, leaving you to contend with corrosive droppings, dead fish parts and nesting materials. Not exactly the image you want for your next party or outing with friend and family. These droppings can also carry any number of diseases. And they're hard to remove, usually requiring sanding.  They can even cause people to slip and fall on deck—especially children.

Launceston is a city just north of the state of Tasmania, Australia, at the juncture of the North Esk, South Esk, and Tamar rivers. It is the second largest city in Tasmania with a population of over 100,000 people. The city recently sought advice on how to get rid of pigeons. A recent pigeon plague across inner Launceston rooftops created a smelly mess, cost local businesses thousands and threatened to potentially spread serious diseases.

The pigeons made their nests in some of the city's landmark buildings, including the old gasworks, the Telstra tower, and several of the city's historic banks and government institutions.

Some referred to the putrid pigeon infestation as a major nuisance and potentially toxic. The problem got so bad that one office was forced to close while hundreds of pigeons and their chicks were destroyed as the building's roof cavity was cleared and cleaned. Clearly, something had to be done to get rid of the pigeons.

Business owners noted that the pigeon problem was worse than dealing with rats. People were warned not to feed the pigeons to reduce the amount of droppings, which not only carry disease like salmonellosis, aspergillosis and histoplasmosis, but can create dangerous slip-and-fall liability for a business.

Spring is just around the corner and so is the arrival of Swallows. They'll be looking your home over for nesting and roosting spots. Yes, they're beautiful birds, but what they can do to your home and yard is not so pretty.

They'll be building their mud nests on your garage, gazebo, patio and home.  In fact, the eave of your home offers the perfect nest-building spot for swallows. It protects them from predators and it offers shelter from the elements.  So unless you've prepared your property properly with the right bird deterrents, you'll be plagued with swallow nests, the mess and debris.

Swallows prefer to nest in colonies, causing major headaches and thousands of dollars in damage for homeowners. And it's not just the nests; swallow droppings are unsightly and hazardous, carrying diseases that can be transmitted to humans.  When swallow nests eventually fall to the ground, the bugs, fleas, ticks and mites harboring inside can spread to dogs, cats and children who may pick them up.