Apr 13 2009
Well around here they’re screaming, “Larry, I need more hay and mud on this corner model. Hurry up!”
Every spring we’re invaded. Sparrows, finches, robins, cardinals, and I’m sure another dozen species that I’ve never heard of. I’m fine with most of them, except those god forsaken pigeons who roost in the barn and silo. (A previous homeowner shot up the barn roof trying to get rid of them. I’m sure it’s the same idiot who buried a kitchen sink in the front pasture.) Anyway, those stupid pigeons sneak through the barn cupolas and then can’t figure how to get out again. Usually they throw themselves against the paned windows until one breaks. One smartie-pants learned to hop down the hay loft stairs and then fly out. Worked well until the cats polished him off. The cats dishes are on the loft stairs so he basically jumped onto their dinner plates.
Anyway, the birds are everywhere. They nest in the chimney, the downspouts, the carriage house, horse trailer, even the grill on the porch (just cheese on my burger, hold the bird). If you stood long enough in the yard, they’d probably nest on your head.
High-density living is in the barn and it’s segregated: swallows only, and they swoop in and out like it’s rush hour. They arrive overnight. It’s like that empty tract of farmland that you drive by and then one day, a whole bunch of cookie cutter townhouses sprout up with cars in the driveway. All that’s missing in our barn is a little bird sign reading, “If you lived here, you’d be home already!”
Swallows are happy, chirpy little birds and as far as I can tell, they’ve got a lot to be happy about. They move in in April, hammer out some home improvements, pop out a litter of kids, maybe 2, and by October they’re off to their winter residence in Costa Rica, Argentina or Puerto Rico. And check this out: “pairs stay together to breed for life, but extra-pair copulation is common, making this species genetically polygamous, but socially monogamous.” Did I read that right? Swallows stay in one relationship and get to fool around? And it’s okay!
Personally, I like swallows, it’s their unchecked development that drives me crazy. They have the whole barn at their disposal, but they build nests along the hay loft door, which makes it impossible to drop hay to the horses. They also nest over Huck’s head. He doesn’t care but I get sick of combing poop out of his forelock.
A former coworker of mine was anti-swallows. Actually she was anti-nature. That’s why she bought a farm…so she’d have something to complain about. I think she imagined gazing out her kitchen window — over a brimming flower box, of course — to see her horses placidly cropping the grass and eliminating the need to every mow again. Unfortunately, mud, manure and repairs, along with redneck neighbors crushed her dream. The swallows were the nail in the coffin.
Her: “How do I get rid of those things? They poop all over my barn! I keep chasing them out and they come back!”
Me: “That’s why they’re called barn swallows. They live in barns.”
The coworker tried blaring music and knocked down the nests they’d build on her outlet boxes. But they’d always come back. Finally she’d foiled them, she announced gleefully. The solution? A tennis ball.
Several carefully placed tennis balls to obstruct construction.
I’ll grant her this, it was a clever solution (I doubt an original idea). More humane than spiked bird strips or popping them off with a b-b gun.
But a tennis ball? It just doesn’t seem sporting. Like it goes against the rules of nature. And I couldn’t help but think she’d get west nile virus or some other insect-borne disease in exchange for her actions.
In the end, after bemoaning her miserable life, and the endless mowing, the repairs, the agony that came with owning five acres, she exchanged the farm for a new house in a suburban subdivision. So in the end, the birds won.
Before our crop of swallows arrived this year, a terrible tornado descended — only in the barn, — and wouldn’t you know it, in the shape of a broom. It leveled half the dwellings. Coincidentally, the nest over the hay loft and over Huck’s stall were lost. I like to think of it as smart growth or sprawl control.
Superstitions says that damaging a barn swallow’s nest is bad luck. But considering it might lead to the cows giving bloody milk, or no milk at all, I think we’ll be okay.