Swallows are beautiful to watch. They fly and play and live out their lives in pairs, male and female, careening and swooping and soaring side by side. Swallows are dancers in an aerial ballet that George Ballanchine would envy – watching them can’t help but fill my soul with joy.
The swallows were flying the afternoon Bill and I first came to look at Silver Spring Farm. We were enchanted! We envisioned ourselves sitting on the front porch after a long day at work, adult beverage in hand, watching the Wollendas of the bird world and our cares melting away. Swallows eat mosquitoes. We would be mosquito-free.
After buying the place, I noticed that the swallows had taken over the barns as their secure nesting place. No problem, thought I, they all leave after the babies can fly, and they migrate in the winter as well. How bad could it be?
Then, on subsequent trips into the barns, I realized just how defensive the birds were of their homes, darting and swooping and careening around my unprotected head. Hmm… And the poop. I realized there is swallow poop all over the barn floor. Actually, it’s all over every horizontal surface inside the barn, and some of the vertical ones, too. It’s kind of, well — it’s gross. And their nesting activities over time have pulled down all the fiberglass batt insulation around the mezzanine office area in the newer barn. Apparently the fiberglass, when combined with mud and swallow spit, makes a primo nest-building substance. Sturdy fiberglass-reinforced upside-down igloos rest atop every light, junction box, and ledge in both barns. I poked at one with a length of rebar, and damned if it didn’t budge.
Enter the beehives.
We brought up the first beehive in the dead of night, put it in the center of the bee yard, and stood back, proudly admiring our accomplishment in the glow of VW headlights. Progress. Here were some of my prized livestock, moved and ready to flourish, safe within their electrified wire compound. Nothing would stop them!
Now we get to the movie referenced at the top of this post. If you’ve ever seen the movie, The Birds, you know that what starts as a few flying-squawking-harmless seagulls, becomes by the end of the film a red-eyed, demon-possessed posse of winged killers. Same goes for the swallows – what started out as “oh, honey, look at the pretty birds” has become ACK THE EFFING SWALLOWS ARE EATING ALL MY HONEY BEES bellowed at the top of my lungs.
Online research did little to assuage my fears. “Adult swallows can eat as many as 600 bees in a day.” Multiplied by 20 swallows, that’s 12,000 bees a day. No queen can lay eggs that fast. I’m screwed. The internet also said that “Swallows eat only drones and queen bees as they have sensitive mouths and cannot tolerate for long the stings of captured workers.” But I’m not seeing any hard evidence to that fact. And my hives need the queens, obviously, and the queens need the drones. This is where I say to myself, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” But which one is right?
Houston, we have a problem.
I have now added sealing up the barns to my ever-lengthening to-do list.