The Birds.

The Birds, by Alfred Hitchcock

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.

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About Silver Spring Farm

I am a beekeeper and organic gardener who is in the process of turning my renovated foreclosure property into a working farm. My etsy shop is located at www.leesbeesnj.etsy.com where you can buy honey, lip balm, creams, soaps and other cool stuff. Bee happy!
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One Response to The Birds.

  1. As a bird watcher, I don’t believe birds eat many bees (if any at all). If they did, then why has a whole species of “bee-eaters” evolved? These birds have long curved beaks, and press the bee stingers on a branch to discharge the venom before they eat the bees. So I’d be a little skeptical about a swallow eating bees, and even more skeptical at them eating 600 bees in a day. If they ate that many bees, they’d be pooping a bee bomb about once every… 1.2 seconds during a 12 hour day. And they don’t fly 12 hours, so the number of bee poops would be massive than a well-fed cormorant.

    We have a hive, and it is surrounded by bird feeders, and lots of birds. Birds fly through the cone at the entrance, but I don’t see any maneuvers that would suggest that they are getting a snack. They are just flying from one point to another. Also, the dead bees at the hive entrance are never eaten by birds. You’d think they’d be an easy meal, but the only things eating them are ants.

    But I could be completely wrong…

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