Orem complex at war over bird droppings; Blast the nests but not the eggs and babies, law says

Published: Thursday, May 17 2012 11:43 p.m. MDT

Thousands of barn swallows and cliff swallows are making themselves at home by building mud nests under the eaves of the Lake Ridge Condominium Complex in Orem. Some residents are not happy about the way a landscaping company is getting rid of the birds, Thursday, May 17, 2012.

Matt Powers, Deseret News

OREM — A condominium complex in Orem is fighting back against an invasion of birds that are dropping too many, uh, droppings in the area.

But wildlife officials are warning that the wrong kind of retaliation could lead to trouble with the law.

Ground zero for the attack is the Lake Ridge Condominium Complex near 1500 West and 430 North. The newest residents, thousands of barn swallows and cliff swallows, are making themselves unwelcome by building mud nests under the eaves.

"I don't want them flying around and leaving bird feces everywhere," said condo resident Stephanie Braithwaite. "My kids are walking around and playing in the grass, so it's somewhat of a sanitation issue."

Once again, northern Utah County is having its annual invasion of swallows. Some traveled all the way from Argentina.

"They do kind of make a mess, on the buildings and around the cars and stuff like that," said condo resident Michelle Kessler.

A landscaping company hired by the Lake Ridge Home Owners Association is fighting back. They're blasting the nests with high-pressure water hoses. But the high-pressure birdbath is upsetting some residents.

"It kind of worries me to have babies in the nests, and they're getting killed and sprayed down," Kessler said. "There's going to be dead babies all over the ground."

Under federal law, it is permissible to knock down or hose down a nest. But it's against the law if there are eggs or babies inside, according to Nathan Darnall of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We have prosecuted in the past," Darnall said. But he emphasized that his agency prefers to educate homeowners rather than threaten them with legal consequences.

Utah state laws also prohibit destruction of babies and eggs. Craig Clyde of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said he called the spraying crew at Lake Ridge and told them they have to inspect each nest to make sure there were no babies or eggs.

"I made sure they will climb up and look," Clyde said, adding that otherwise they could be cited or arrested.

Kessler believes there were babies in many of the nests. "Before they sprayed them down the first time," Kessler said, "I could hear the babies in the bird nests, chirping away at 8 in the morning."

A member of the spraying crew said they always gently spray each nest first to scare away birds before turning on the high pressure. He acknowledged the job is frustrating, though, because the birds keep coming back.

Like humans vowing to rebuild after a tornado or flood, the birds show a remarkable spirit, considering their unwelcome circumstances.

Pointing at blotches of mud under the eaves, Kessler said, "They just sprayed these down this morning at 8 o'clock, and they're already starting to build them back. It's only a couple of hours that they start rebuilding."

Wildlife officials said the best way to deal with it is to hose the nests down early, while they're under construction, and keep spraying regularly until the unwelcome guests get the message.

There are also products available to discourage the birds from building the nests. Some products are structures that limit the birds' access under the eaves.

Grease and other substances can also be applied that make the walls either too slippery, or too sticky.

E-mail: hollenhorst@desnews.com

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