For as beautiful as their song is, barn swallows also bring a lot of less attractive features when they move into your property. The early-morning noise and piles of droppings and feathers they create are reason enough to want these birds gone.
Discouraging barn swallows from hanging out around your home isn’t always easy, but there are effective ways to do it without harming the birds or changing the aesthetics of your buildings. Keep in mind that swallows are protected by federal law, so damaging nests in use or harming swallows, their eggs or their young in any way is something you’ll want to avoid.
Block Tempting Nesting Sites
Barn swallows prefer to build their nests in a few specific types of places, such as ledges, rafters, and building eaves. By making it difficult for the birds to access these spaces on your property, you eliminate the primary reason they come in the first place.
If your eaves have been attracting swallows, one of the easiest ways to block these spaces is by covering them with bird netting. This fine-mesh netting can be secured with garden twine or stapled into place. It’s particularly convenient for awkwardly shaped and large areas. For an even more inconspicuous swallow deterrent, look for products designed to adhere to the ceiling and dangle a curtain of fine plastic strings. Birds find the strings unpleasant to fly through.
If you’ve previously had swallows nesting on open ledges, install bird slopes. These metal or plastic devices are designed to sit on the ledge and create smooth, steep surfaces birds can’t land on. Bird slopes can also be mounted upside down in your eaves to prevent swallows from nesting there. Installation is just a matter of applying adhesive and sticking the slopes in place. Most kits also come with end caps to prevent swallows from squeezing in behind the slopes.
Scare Them Off
Even if you block the choice nesting sites, barn swallows can always find other places to nest around your home. To keep the birds away entirely, you might need to actively chase them off.
Laser beams have been found effective for scaring away a variety of birds, including pigeons, sparrows, and swallows. A laser bird deterrent sits in the area where the birds have been seen and shoots harmless laser lights that startle the birds. The pattern and location of the lights are random and changes constantly to assure the birds don’t become accustomed to them.
Sound is another way to shoo swallows off your property. Sonic swallow deterrents emit noises swallows find frightening, such as predator sounds and bird distress calls. On the downside, these noises are audible to people, too.
For a little extra deterrence, set up a few decoys of birds of prey, such as hawks and owls. These can help discourage new swallows from investigating the area. Eventually, however, the swallows will realize the birds are decoys. Occasionally moving the decoys helps, but they’re really only effective when used along with other deterrents.
Create a Less Attractive Environment
Non-toxic chemical swallow repellents create bitter odors and tastes swallows prefer to avoid, but that is undetectable by humans. Spraying these on the swallows’ food source renders the food unappealing to the birds. Spraying repellent on potential nesting surfaces encourages the birds to look elsewhere. Many of these sprays are made from natural ingredients, such as grape extract, and are safe to use around people, pets, and food crops. Bodies of water containing fish are the only place they shouldn’t be used.
Swallows re-use nests, so when nesting season is over, remove the old nests and thoroughly clean up all other traces of swallows, such as droppings and feathers. Apply a fresh coat of paint to the nesting areas to cover any lingering traces of swallow presence.
Creating an alternative habitat is another way to make your buildings less attractive to local swallows. With a more attractive nesting site available, the birds should lose interest in your buildings.
Find a location where nesting swallows won’t be a nuisance and set up a structure with a ledge or overhang to provide a nesting area. Purpose-built swallow nest cups and ledges are available to create the ideal nesting surface for barn swallows.
To give the birds a sense of safety, the nesting surface should be at least 8 feet off the ground and around 6 inches below the ceiling, and should include sides for protection from wind and rain. Provide food and calcium sources by setting up a feeder filled with insect-based bird food and putting out crushed egg shells. Complete the habitat by creating a source of mud the swallows can use for nesting material.
Keeping barn swallows away from your buildings and garden will most likely require a combination of methods, such as physically blocking nesting sites, setting up bird scare devices, and applying deterrent sprays.
If you have a severe, on-going problem with barn swallows, however, contact your local wildlife authority. They can find legal and humane ways to get the swallows away from your home, such as live trapping and re-location.