Leave it be
SUMMIT COUNTY – Migratory birds such as robins, bluebirds, swallows and hummingbirds can add song and color to Summit County summers. Though the avian visitors usually are appreciated, they don’t always arrive to open arms.
Swallows, in particular, tend to be a source of conflict with humans who don’t want to share their homes with the nesting birds.
Because swallows spend most of their time flying in search of insects such as mosquitoes, wasps, flies and beetles for food, they typically build their nests near open country, said Ken Strom, director of bird conservation for Audubon Colorado.
Most local residents are most familiar with cliff and barn swallows. These birds once nested under overhangs and on cliff faces, Strom said, but now prefer to build nests on the sides of buildings and bridges and under overhangs.
“They really have gotten so used to people they almost exclusively nest that way,” he said.
Ranchers, farmers and others appreciate swallows because they dine on a number of flying insects, including mosquitoes. That may be particularly beneficial this summer with the West Nile Virus, said Kirk Oldham, a Colorado Division of Wildlife district wildlife manager for Summit County.
Swallows also can be a source of entertainment.
“They’re really fun to watch,” he said. “You can watch their whole life cycle of rearing their young. It’s kind of like a natural history display right there.”
Even so, some residents find the birds a nuisance – especially when they build a nest above a doorway or walkway, Oldham said.
Nuisance or not, residents and business owners need to leave the nests be – at least through the end of the summer, when the birds have left for warmer climates.
“Oftentimes, they’re washed down in the middle of the summertime when there are active swallows using those nests,” Oldham said. “Obviously, those birds can’t survive.”
Anyone who removes a nest during nesting season can – and likely will – be fined, he said.
Bill Hess, owner and operator of A Pane in My Glass window cleaning service, has removed inactive nests for clients. Residents should obtain a permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife before removing a nest, Hess said. The permit will dictate when and how a nest can be removed.
Swallows typically arrive in Summit County in late spring and leave in early autumn, he said, but their stay may be shorter or longer depending on the weather.
“One of the interesting things about swallows (is) they come back to pretty much the same place every year,” Strom said. “They are pretty faithful to sites.”
In other words, removing an old nest doesn’t mean the swallows won’t come back the following season and build another one in the same spot. For that reason, Oldham recommends removing only problem nests and leaving those in agreeable locations.
“If you’re going to draw them away, you need to create something (elsewhere),” he said.
There are a few ways to discourage birds from returning to a problem spot year after year, Hess said. He has seen clients use netting to block off areas and sticky caulk called “Bird Proof.” Though the caulk is not toxic, it can potentially injure the bird.
“Those kinds of things are probably going to hurt the bird,” Strom said. “I think a better way is to simply deny them access to a site.”
Oldham recommends removing unwanted nests and hanging netting to discourage swallows from returning there, but keeping nests that are away from doorways and on the back sides of buildings.
Experts also recommend providing an alternate site for the birds, but it’s important to know that swallows won’t build a nest on a pole or hanging from a tree. Nor will they enter a birdhouse. Studies indicate swallows prefer building on vertical walls of rough wood, often on a small projection such as protruding knots or nails, and up near the ceiling, where they are protected from weather and predators.
One can use a wide open box with a roof on it and nail it to a wall somewhere, create a shelf for the birds under an existing overhang, or nail a piece of rough wood about an inch or so from an overhang.
“Wild animals will do what wild animals will do, but you have a reasonable chance of coming to an accommodation for them by creating an easy place to nest,” Strom said.
Lu Snyder can be reached at
(970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or
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