Bird Lady Blog

January 1, 2016

Swallows and Conflicts with Nature

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

I recently received an e-mail from a reader in Kachina Village who asked me what he could do about the swallows nesting under his house eaves.  He wanted to repaint the entire outside of his home, and swallows had built mud nests right above his back door.  Could he relocate them?  And if he could, how would that work?

I replied that he probably had Barn Swallows or Cliff Swallows – both build nests made of mud pellets in the shape of a cup or gourd.  The Barn Swallow is the most widespread species of swallow in the world, spreading from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.  It is distinguished by elongated tail feathers.  I see Barn Swallows most often on the Pinewood Country Club golf course, between the condos and the ponds, and they are astonishing to watch as the fly low and right past us sometimes even while we are on the putting greens.  They twist and turn seemingly effortlessly, all the while in pursuit of air-borne insects.  Their wing-beat is about 5 times per second!

Cliff Swallows also build nests of mud attached to a structure – often in colonies under overpasses and bridges – and their nests are more gourd-shaped.  The Cliff Swallow is a square-tailed, stockier bird than the Barn Swallow, with a pale, pumpkin-colored rump and dark upperparts.  It generally forages higher than other species.

Regardless of which species was nesting under the eaves, it would be against the law to disturb the nests.  The birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The Act “makes it illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”

So what should our reader do?  My advice was wait until the birds completed nesting and the babies fledged out of the mud nests.  Paint the rest of the house and leave that section for later.  It is a tough situation for the homeowner, but as we all know, we humans often run into conflicts with animal life.  I have a chipmunk that wandered into our garage all the time and got into the bird seed.  It even left me its calling card – some urine and scat – right by my parked car.  So I moved the seed into a plastic bin I bought at Target and placed it on our deck so my walk to the bird seed would be shorter and the seed protected.  The corner of the bin was chewed away last night – plastic pieces everywhere – by perhaps a squirrel or raccoon, trying to raid the seed.  My friends tell me they don’t let their little dog out in the back yard alone because of coyotes.  And we’ve all had the experience of having a glass of wine, beer, or soda on the deck only to discover that little gnats think your beverage is their private swimming pool.

So the morale I suppose is to respect nature and do our best to be tolerant and live in harmony.  Outsmart the chipmunk and squirrels by putting the plastic bin in the garage, place a napkin over your glass of wine between sips, and put up reflective ribbons under the eaves to discourage the swallows from nesting there in the first place.  And in the end, enjoy nature for what it has to offer us all!



July 7, 2012

House Birds Part II

Filed under: Uncategorized — Munds Park Birding @ 10:56 pm
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House Wren Photo Courtesy of Gordon Karre

The last edition’s Article #33 was Part I of our “house” birds – those that are most likely to show up around your home.   But those birds I wrote about two weeks ago were not a complete list of house and cabin birds – we still have Acorn Woodpeckers and Anna’s and Broad-Winged Hummingbirds that are frequent visitors, and of course the Western Bluebird and the swallows.  In Munds Park we have three species of swallows:  Barn, Violet-Green, and Tree.   The folks who can see our swallows the easiest are probably those who live in the condos just off of Hole 10 on Pinewood Country Club.

The rest of this article is about three Munds Park birds that have the word “House” in their common, non-scientific name:  House Finch, House Sparrow, and House Wren.

The male House Finch is mostly brown but has a red head and breast, and the females are a streaked gray/brown with no other distinctive markings.  House finches have a wonderful, cheerful song, long and twittering.  It is a bird primarily found in the West, in all types of habitats from our city parks to backyards to deserts and forest edges.  If you put up a bird seed feeder in any of our towns throughout the state, you will most likely be visited by a House Finch.    I have never had a House Finch at our feeders in Munds Park, although I know others who have, and I have heard and seen them in the residential areas closer to the golf course.

The chunky House Sparrow is a non-native bird that was introduced into the U.S. in the mid-1800’s by people who wanted to establish wildlife familiar to people of European descent.  House Sparrows are now found throughout the U.S. and are one of the few species in the country that are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.  The male has a gray head, white cheek, black bib, and rufous neck.  The bird is despised by many – it takes up nesting spots from cavity-nesting birds like bluebirds and is a pest in large cities.  You can see a small number of House Sparrows around the patio area of Pinewood Country Club.  The House Sparrow is a perfect example of how non-native species bring havoc to a new environment – in this case, affecting native songbirds, farmland, and cities in all 50 states.  Two hundred years ago there were no House Sparrows in the U.S. at all – today their numbers are estimated in the hundreds of millions.

The House Wren is a common back-yard bird, and though I haven’t seen one in Munds Park personally, I have had a report of one.  It is a small, plain brown bird with a fairly long, curved beak, and its tail is usually cocked above the line of its body or drooped down.  It is a bubbly and energetic bird, hopping around from bush to thicket, and when it sings, it delivers a trilling song, over and over.  This bird will happily nest in a next box.  Native Americans call this bird o-du-na-mis-sug-ud-da-we-shi, which means “making a big noise for its size”.  If you think you have a House Wren on your property, I would really like to hear from you.

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