All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Swallows are a little early this year....

Dear Marie,

I don’t live anywhere close to San Juan Capistrano, but for some reason, swallows have invaded my neighborhood.  I have at least a dozen nests under my eaves and so do most of my neighbors.  The birds are noisy, aggressive, very messy and I just don’t want them around.  I can’t even park my car in my own driveway because of the bird droppings.  I don’t want to hurt the swallows;  I just think they belong in a more wild setting.  What can I do?

Steven, Lake Forest

Dear Steven:

Usually, from March to June, many California  residents experience the same problems you have described. So your little guys are "early-birds!" During the late winter, Cliff Swallows, migrate northward from South America—where they pass the cold-weather-months—and some actually travel all the way up to Northern California.  San Juan Capistrano is famous for the swallows, that is true, but every city on their migratory path is subject to nesting colonies. 

Cliff swallows provide us with a wonderful, non-toxic pest control service.  They keep mosquitoes and other flying insect populations  in check.  If it wasn’t for the swallows, and other migratory birds, we would have far more serious problems to complain about.

Cliff swallows build gourd-shaped nests out of mud.  Any vertical surface that meets an overhang is ideal for nest building activities.  Before there were  man-made structures in the swallows’ migratory path, nest sites consisted of cliffs and canyon walls.  However, in the present day, homes and office buildings introduce ideal surfaces for the durable mud nests and are irresistible to site seeking swallows. 

It takes up to two weeks for a pair of swallows to complete their nest.  They each travel up to a half mile in search of mud to complete their home.  The pair will make more than a thousand trips to the mud source to gather enough building material.  It is no easy task.  If you have children, this is a wonderful opportunity for them to observe some of the magic of nature.  Nest-building activities are truly awesome.

When the nest is nearly completed, the female will begin to lay her eggs.  On average, a female swallow will lay one egg a day for three to four days, usually in late April or May. (Obviously, in your situation, this whole time frame has moved up dramatically!)  Both male and female will sit on the eggs until they hatch in just over two weeks.  

Let me assure you, the nuisances you are experiencing are strictly temporary.  A month after the babies hatch, the whole family will disappear.  May I suggest parking your car in a different spot for the time being.  Hose down any messy areas on the ground each evening, when the birds are less likely to “dive bomb.”  Determine what the comfort zone is for the parents and give them their space.  If you choose not to, (at your own "risk!") defensive behaviors on the part of the birds are normal and should be expected. 

Swallows—as well as all migratory birds—are protected under Federal Law.  It is strictly prohibited to remove their nests once they have been constructed.  Fines of several hundred dollars PER NEST REMOVED can be imposed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife authorities on any individual who violates this code.  However, once the nest is abandoned, they may be hosed down.

Swallows and their offspring return to the same nesting location year after year.  If you do not want swallows returning next year, I suggest using an exclusionary control method to discourage nest building under your eaves.  The simplest method is to attach nylon netting around the perimeter of your house from the eaves to the wall during nesting season.  This eliminates a suitable surface for the swallows to attach their nests.

Be patient...enjoy your guests.  You’ll miss them when they’re gone!

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