DEAR JOAN: It is mud swallow nesting season in the Communications Hill neighborhood of San Jose. My neighbors and I are doing all we can to discourage the swallows from nesting on our homes, and we’re aware it is illegal to destroy the nests once they are established.
We certainly don’t want to cause any eggs or chicks to fall, however, we simply can’t have these nests raining down toxins above our front doors. I’m afraid we are flying a losing battle though. Playing loud hawk and owl sounds, spraying vinegar and pepper treatments are not solving the problem, but it does seem to deter them a little.
Some of us have begun knocking down their muddy progress a few times a day, if we can. My question is, is this legal? There is no chance that eggs are present. We want to protect these little creatures, but we’d like them to move along to some better locations.
Nathan B., San Jose
DEAR NATHAN: For the past three years, I’ve welcomed a breeding pair of barn swallows that built their nest on the front of my house. I enjoy watching them and yeah, they make a mess, but I don’t mind the clean up.
I only have one nest, however, and I can sympathize with you and your neighbors playing host to many more. Unfortunately, the window on dealing with the birds has slammed closed for now.
Migratory birds are protected by an international federal treaty that prohibits doing anything that harms or disrupts the lives of most birds, and that includes destroying eggs and nests. The protection doesn’t apply to unused nests and nests in progress, but the swallows are afforded extra protections by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The agency sets a ban on attempts to control swallows on your property from Feb. 15 to Sept. 1, considered the breeding season for the birds. That means by the time you see the birds building nests or reinforcing old ones, it’s already too late to do anything.
During that time, if you can prove the birds are causing substantial harm, you can apply to the state for a special permit to remove nests, but if eggs already are present, the request likely will be denied. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until after Sept. 1 to wash away old nests and install barriers to prevent them from rebuilding next year.
You have plenty of time to research deterrents, but they include a swallow nesting shield, which is a plastic strip with dangling monofilaments. You hang the strip in areas where nesting has occurred or is likely to. The monofilaments tend to annoy the swallows when they brush against their wings, and can be enough to discourage them from building in that spot.
You can also try bird-deterring flying kites, which resemble large predators; swallow-deterring laser lights, which create random and unexpected patterns of light; and swallow bird spikes, which makes it difficult for the birds to find perching spots.
The birds have an instinct to return to old nesting sites, so discouraging them can be difficult. Prepare yourself for a long seat. If the birds are so widespread in the neighborhood, you might want to band together and hire experts to deal with them.
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