View Full Version : Barn swallow nests - when is it "safe" to take them down for the season?

Loves to ride
Aug. 24, 2010, 09:42 AM

2 nests and 7 sets of babies later, I'm noticing no activity in the barn swallow nests.

Is it safe to take the nests down now?

If I take the nests down, will they come back next year?

It's been a wonderful year! The swallows banished the sparrows to under the over-hang and took over the aisle rafters. I've had a blast watching the ever-increasing flock swoop and fly around. Even my non-observant hubby noticed them one day and was fascinated by their antics (and sheer #'s!) I think about 20 babies managed to survive.

Anyway, I don't want to risk not having them come back next year so need guidance on de-nesting the barn.

Oh, I'm in Massachusetts if that makes a difference.

Thanks in advance!

Aug. 24, 2010, 10:11 AM
Why would you take the nests down? Especially if you want the swallows back I would leave them up. Yes, they may rebuild, but why make them do all that work?

Swallow popluations have suffered in the past 4-5 years in New England - if you like them, please leave the nests.

Aug. 24, 2010, 10:20 AM
Barn swallows take care of the insects that the now-deceased bats used to remove. I agree with Hilary, leave the nests up. It takes a lot of work to put one of those nests together.

Aug. 24, 2010, 10:52 AM
I do not take my nests down...I have some that are close to 15 years old. I love them. I think the same swallows come back, and then their kids come back and build more.

In 20 years, I now have 6 nests now. It gets kind of crazy with them diving in and out, but horses don't mind, I don't mind, in fact, I kind of like to see the babies when they first come out of their nest...they are so curious and silly.
They build them in a place my cats, hard as they might try, can't reach.

The swallows are now gone, fall is in the air, seasons are changing...leave the nests up for next year...it will warm your heart to see your own personal 'snowbirds' come back~

Auventera Two
Aug. 24, 2010, 11:04 AM
My swallows use the same nests every year. The first week or so that they're back, they clean the nests out and I find piles of debris on the floor under each nest. Once the nests are clean, they patch up any holes or weak spots, then lay their eggs. Like fivehorses, I also think their kids come back and build new nests. After the 14 years we've been here, I think I have about 10 or so nests.

Aug. 24, 2010, 11:50 AM
Leave the nests up if at all possible, they come back to the same nests for years. Once in a while one will want an upgrade, then they just build a new nest close by the old one.

If for some reason you do have to take them down, then in spring if you want to make sure they build there here's a trick to attract barn swallows:

When you see the first ones flitting around, buy some plastic disposable plates and dig up some loose dirt. Mix dirt and water to make mud, fill each plate with mud and set out them out on the groound in clear sight. The swallow find them fast and land all day long grabbing up easy mud for nests.

You can also put out a shallow basket and put in horse hair, cotton balls, yarn, feathers and bit of fabric. They line the nests with that.

I also put out a plate of meal worms near the plates of mud. They snap those up as long as they're still moving. If they die the swallows ignore them, they're movement missiles only. :winkgrin: I always figure they're pooped after the long flight back and all the nest building, so a quick easy meal is given. :D

They're beneficial and so much fun to have around that I spoil the heck out of mine, LOL!

(BTW you can put that stuff out for them even if you leave the nests up. Each pair will partially tear down parts of the old nests and rebuild and re-line them anyways)

Loves to ride
Aug. 24, 2010, 01:39 PM
Okay, okay, I won't take them down! :D

I absolutely want the swallows to come back. They are my summer entertainment! Althought I do wish they ate flies.

I was unaware they reuse the nests.
Good to know.


Aug. 24, 2010, 01:53 PM
If it's any help...I do "trim" my barn nests down a bit. Since the swallows make them with lots of horse hair the nests have "unsightly" streamers hanging down. After they leave for the winter I get up on a ladder and yank out the long hairs hanging down so they don't look sloppy. :D
Although I must admit I'm an anal retentive clean freak when it comes to my barn, LOL! :winkgrin:
You can also wipe out the interior lining because in spring when they tear it out themselves they'll only drop it all over your horses in the stalls underneath. And then you walk in and try to figure out how your horse got coated with down, larger feathers and bits of fluff. :lol:

Aug. 25, 2010, 01:03 AM
I leave the nests for the next year. Our swallows have been coming back to the same nests for ten years now. I am always so happy when they arrive and it's such a sign of the end of summer when they leave, it's sad. Plus the fly and mosquito populations go berserk.

Our swallows had two sets of babies this year instead of last year when there was just one, so with three nests in the barns, we had quite a population. Fortunately, there were no swallow tragedies this summer which makes it a banner year.

Just this past week, they were gathering for their trip south, and I treated myself to an hour in my lawn chair just watching them fly. They are truly amazing. I saw them drop feathers to each other in the sky, fly up to each other to feed babies in mid air; stop, feed, and then swoop down in an arc back up into the sky. Pretty cool stuff. I wonder if the Air Force has taken any notice of their aerodynamics and ability to turn on a dime. I love my swallows.

Aug. 25, 2010, 02:58 AM
We inherited a swallow's nest just outside our back door. They are so cool!
Several years ago, a second nest appeared. When we repainted, the exterior the nests had to go. Boy, did we have ticked off swallows the next spring but they rebuilt. The second nest didn't get rebuilt near as well as
the one in the usual location, and this year it wasn't inhabited as well.

We had two sets again this spring but all disappeared several weeks ago before the big heat wave began. Think we've had four weeks of triple digits.
Tonight, it is delightful outside and there is a north wind. Then it's back to
the mid-90's again. Sigh!

Aug. 25, 2010, 06:47 AM
We had one swallow tragedy - three babies came out of
a nest into a stall. Luckily we bed heavily. Two babies
survived. To escape the barn cats, we hung an easter
basket from the beams near their old nest. Within
minutes, the babies were being fed. It was quite cute
seeing the youngsters sitting in thier basket - very
spacious and safer digs than their nest. I am leaving
the basket up to see if it is used again next year.
I won't know if it is the parents or the kids using it

Aug. 25, 2010, 11:46 AM
I wonder if the Air Force has taken any notice of their aerodynamics and ability to turn on a dime. I love my swallows.

Actually according to a special I watched on TV, yes they do study certain birds to come up with improvements on planes. And swallows were one of them. :yes:

I can sit for hours and watch the swallows catching bugs, teaching babies or just socializing. :) After morning barn chores or after evening ones I'll sit in the dooorway of the barn with a cuppa and watch them. Over my paddocks get a bunch of them, although I only have on pair in my barn there are a few in the trees and tons in my neighbor's barn.

Or when I go pick up hay my hay guy has tons of nests all over the place. I love to watch the hundreds he has swooping all over the place. Or following his tractor.

This year I was so pissed I didn't have my camera because one parent had caught a ginormous moth and was trying to feed it to the babies. Only it didn't fit. It was the dad, he'd try one baby after the other, stuffing the moth in the beak and then tilting his head. Baby would have a shocked look as it tried to get it dow. Dad would pluck it back out and try the next baby. Then he pulled the moth wings off and tried again! After a few minutes the moth body got tossed too, I don't think it would've fit in Dad either. :lol: :lol: :lol:

I can't tell one set of swallows from another either. I can tell mom from dad (breast color is very different, males have darker/more color and females are more washed out) and babies from parents (their throats are paler) but the only way I can tell it's "my" normal pair is that they're oddly anti-social and won't allow any other swallows in the barn. They'll swoop and play with them outside, but if one swoops into the barn mom and dad go on the attack.

Auventera Two
Aug. 25, 2010, 12:48 PM
I've been mowing pastures the last week and it was so sad to see NO barn swallows swooping and diving around the mower :( That's my favorite part of mowing. Sometimes I'm watching the birds so intently, I don't notice the zigzaggy mowing lines.

And like someone else posted, the mosquitos and flies have taken over my barn since the swallows left. I wish there were some way to hang onto them longer, but we're pretty far north and it's a long flight so they tend to leave mid August.

Aug. 25, 2010, 01:19 PM
I have had the barn swallows for about 9 years. I never take the nests down, and am careful not to powerwash them away. I have 6 nests in my barn now. Two of them new this year, along w/a new one on the side of the house. This year they came very early, so no powerwashing for spring cleaning. We also had 2 hatches this year. Great idea about the Easter basket! I keep a huge extension ladder and spend part of almost every day checking for fallen babies(amazing any of them survive!) The mowing is a regular fiasco of birdlife here, first the cattle egrets follow me(did you know they eat snakes and mice??) then the swallows come....then the Red Tailed Hawk. In the evening there are about 20-30 turkeys out there, along w/all the deer.

Aug. 25, 2010, 02:51 PM
This season I lost my first and only nesting of swallows. All five jumped to their death one day. Actually, they jumped and lived in torment for a few hours. Very sad. They used the same nest as last year but apparently the eggs of bird mites wintered over. It was so horrible to see the millions of mites crawling over these babies... and the nest... and the post it was built on.

I knocked down the nest. They will have to rebuild next year and every year. I won't let mites kill those tiny babies again.

Aug. 25, 2010, 03:17 PM
Whoever said it takes time to build a nest didn't watch my nesting pair this year.

When Jr from the first hatch refused to leave the nest, I watched Mom & Dad - in the space of a few hours! - build a brand new nest about a foot from the original.

Jr inhabited this Bachelor/Bachelorette Pad right through the 2nd hatch. He/She would beg to be fed right along with the new babies.
And I'm pretty sure i saw He/She help teach the newbies to fly.

They are all gone from inside now, but I still have a colony nesting under the eaves at the North end of my barn.
They accompany me when I mow..
Like A2, I have to remind myself "Straight lines!"

BTW: I vote for leaving the nests up.
I wouldn't mind if my rafters were loaded with swallow nests!
They seem to have evicted the former resident starlings & are nowhere near as messy.

Aug. 25, 2010, 04:21 PM
Oh Newt, how very sad.

I have thought if I sold my farm, I would put in the deed that the swallows nests cannot be removed or destroyed. I love them that much.

The original nest is inside one of barn ells that I close the doors at night. They get very frantic with lack of access, since that was the original nest and the ell was not enclosed when they built it.

I literally have to leave the doors cracked so they can get in or out at will.

In my other barn, those doors are usually left open by the time the swallows come back, so it isn't an issue. But, I do have to remember to be mindful of the ell.
Just love them, but can't tell them apart, well, not the adults. With two barns and many nests in each, the sky can get quite busy. LOL

Aug. 25, 2010, 04:25 PM
We had one swallow tragedy - three babies came out of
a nest into a stall. Luckily we bed heavily. Two babies
survived. To escape the barn cats, we hung an easter
basket from the beams near their old nest. Within
minutes, the babies were being fed. It was quite cute
seeing the youngsters sitting in thier basket - very
spacious and safer digs than their nest. I am leaving
the basket up to see if it is used again next year.
I won't know if it is the parents or the kids using it

I had a similar occurrence this year and moved my 3 babies to a small, hay lined bucket on top of my hay stack. It wasn’t even 10 minutes before their parents found them and commenced feeding them. A few days later they’d fledged! Sadly, their final brother/sister from the original nest didn’t fare well and ended up a hoof shaped pancake in one of the stalls.

I have a friend who says her BO hangs personal sized pails from the rafters and the swallows nest in those… much safer and more spacious! I’m going to hang buckets up near last year’s nests come spring.

Aug. 25, 2010, 04:32 PM
Izthatrt...that must be fun to watch with the wildlife coming in shifts!

I have a new group of turkeys that have started hanging out mostly on my property. 3 adults and 3 babies. Babies are at that "OMG it's an alien!" stage, LOL! :lol:

Newt, it's so sad when the mites get the babies. I've never had them in my swallow nests, but have found eaten alive babies in the 2 robin's nests under my deck. :no: You can't even touch the nests without your hands being covered in mites in 2 seconds. Rotten parasites. The parents leave the babies and nests as soon as the mites show up.

I do worry if I have a large family hatched in the swallow nests. 4 and over I start keeping an eagle eye on the nest because at half grown they no longer fit and over 4 there's usually one that doesn't get fed as often and ends up starving as it's siblings shove it around. (or was hatched a day later) That's why I watch those times and make sure as the babies slowly move around in the nest that all of them are fed each time a parent comes in. If one starts looking smaller than the rest, I remove it and place it in a fake nest nearby and also feed it up a tad and then put it back.

I have too much time on my hands...or else get too attached to my swallows, LOL!