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Home & Garden

Published: Thursday, May 18, 2006

Messy, muddy birds can be tough to swallow

By Jim Kjeldsen
Herald Columnist

They swoop, glide and zing around like little angels bringing a bit of heaven to your back yard. What's more, they eat your bugs - gazillions of them.

But then they throw mud on your house, have wild parties with their friends and quickly overstay their welcome.

They're swallows, and they're returning from South America and other snowbird haunts for another season of propagation. Keeping them from taking up residence on your porch or garage can be a real problem, because swallows are not easily dissuaded. Like boys after a pretty girl, they just keep coming back.

Swallows may be lovely to behold in flight, but there are good reasons for keeping them off your property. They make a mess with their mud nests. They leave behind pests including swallow bugs - bedbug cousins that can hang around for years without a meal until you or your dog happen by.

The problem is that if you let them set up housekeeping, once the nest is built and the swallows have eggs, there's nothing you can do about it. They're protected by law. You need a permit to get rid of them after that.

So strike first, strike hard, no mercy. Wait, wrong movie.

So keep these little beauties out of your home before they turn into beasts. After all, the world is full of palatial nesting sites where the little sacks of poop that baby swallows deposit won't menace human, canine, feline or avian health.

But how do you thwart their pernicious persistence?

Swallows are attracted to old nests. Even a flick of mud long before enhanced by swallow spit will draw them back to the same place. If there's mud, wash it off with some good cleaner like 30 Seconds or Simple Green.

Next, choose your weapon. There are no chemical toxicants legal for swallow swishing, so forget that right now. It's way too easy, anyway.

You've got to earn this one.

A quick list of what doesn't work: hawk, owl or snake models; taped alarms of wounded, screeching baby swallows; noisemakers; strobe lights; roost repellents. So says the University of California's Integrated Pest Management Program.

Netting works. Hang some fishnet or bird netting under the eaves. Tack the netting to wooden dowels to make it easier to stretch, then hang the dowels on hooks. This makes for an artistic array. Using lathe or cast-off wood works just as well but is ugly.

What? You don't want your house to look like the Pike Place Fish Market?

Why not, it's quaint. OK, it's your house.

Try hanging a curtain of netting from the eaves 3 or 4 inches out from the wall. This will look splendidly artistic to everyone except the swallows. Soffit venting is good for this. That's the semi-rigid plastic or metal mesh screening carpenters stick under eaves for ventilation.

You only need to leave it hanging for a few weeks, until the swallows realize you've pulled he welcome mat. Still too unsightly?

Try bird spikes, those needlelike metal or plastic projections that stick out at all angles to keep pigeons, starlings and sea gulls at bay.

Right, now your home looks like a prison.

Here's another idea: Attach glass, sheet metal or another very smooth-surfaced material to eaves, window ledges, corners and any other place swallows are eyeing. They even make curved fiberglass molds that make the right angle where wall meets eave into a less Euclidean space-time warp.

No to all these ideas. I see. Get some paint that dries to a slick surface and swab it on the spots where swallows hang out. They like the rough life and will go somewhere less civilized.

To get ideas from the human spider Web, try,,,,

Good luck.

Jim Kjeldsen is a former Herald assistant news editor who now owns and operates La Conner Hardware in La Conner.


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