Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barn Swallows

This blog entry is from our Collections Manager, Sarah Holland. I've posted it for her this week.

The sounds of baby birds chirping in their nests are usually welcome in the spring and summer months. Unfortunately, when birds decide to use a historic structure for the base of their nests, the sounds are not so pleasant. Bird nests—and their owners—present an enormous problem for Curatorial staff members, Preservation Specialists, and visitors.

Currently, some of the outbuildings at Stratford Hall are the summer homes for breeding families of Barn Swallows. Barn Swallows have off-white underparts and blue upperparts and favor open country near water. During May and early June each year, Barn Swallows will return to the same area to nest where easily accessible man-made structures provide a perfect location to build their mud pellet nests.

Stratford Hall’s Outbuildings, which interpret Slave Life, Coaching, an Overseer’s Quarters, and a Gardner’s Shed, are open to the public during visiting hours and are a perfect location for Barn Swallows to nest. To an average home-owner, Barn Swallows create a nuisance that is easily managed by installing plastic eaves and netting to the sides of their homes. Unfortunately, in a historic structure these deterrents are not a possibility.

Plastic eaves and netting hanging from the ceilings distract visitors from the atmosphere of a historic site and also cause unwanted changes to a preserved building. Simply removing the nest is also not an option. Nesting birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and removal of the birds, their nests, and other trappings is illegal.

Yet the dizzying distraction of birds flying in and out of buildings, feces on objects and building materials, and the health hazards that nests generally pose is a unique problem. We are currently letting the birds finish their mating season prior to removing, cleaning, and re-housing objects. After that, we will be working on cleaning the historic structures and using alternative methods, such as plastic owls, to deter the birds from re-nesting next year. Any suggestions are welcome. Thus, when you visit Stratford Hall, please enjoy nature at work and give the fledglings a little flying room!

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