Migratory birds cause stir
Ryan Summerlin July 16, 2013
The swallow’s migration is one of epic proportions. Wintering in South America, they travel thousands of miles to North America to breed in the spring, leaving again in late summer.
C.J. Johnson, a Park City resident, has been trying to spread awareness of the sensitivity of swallows’ nests in the area, many of which can be found on people’s homes. Currently, swallows are nearing the end of their nesting period and by August they will already be in peak migration season.
"One swallow eats its weight in mosquitoes every day," Johnson said. "Everyone should be glad the swallows show up."
Johnson, who previously led tours at the Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City, is knowledgeable about bird behavior. Although she is not licensed to take in orphaned migratory birds such as swallows, she does take in birds such as sparrows, starlings and pigeons.
Johnson currently takes all of the orphaned migratory birds she finds to Candy Carlson, a wildlife bird rehabilitator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Recently she said she took Carlson a baby sandhill crane.
A recent dilemma involving swallows’ nests in her neighborhood has caused Johnson to inform people about the dangers and penalties of removing swallows’ nests.
Johnson’s next-door neighbors, who had a swallow’s nest on their house, were going to start a painting project. When Johnson informed them that paint fumes can be toxic and lethal to birds, the neighbor said she would stop the painting. Johnson had state wildlife officials come in to discuss the issue with the painters shortly afterwards.
"The birds travel thousands of miles to get back here, and it takes them so much energy to build their nest," Johnson said.
The Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter was also approached by Johnson when she heard about their scheduled renovations to the Wallin Barn. Executive Director Jon Paulding said they took the swallows into consideration when planning renovations.
"We scheduled all along to accommodate the chicks’ fledging," Paulding said. Swaner Director of Conservation Nell Larson said they consulted with local experts in making their decision as well.
"We spoke with Bill Fenimore, a Utah bird expert, and Dave Hanscom, a Park City resident and birder," Larson said.
Paulding said Fenimore advised that as long as the project starts after mid-July it would not kill or disrupt any chicks. When the houses need to be washed off, the birds will have to rebuild their nests but no damage to chicks will be caused.
"In reality, we won’t start painting until the third week of August," Paulding said. "That will be almost a month past the safe time."
Johnson said she tries to warn as many people as possible not to remove swallows’ nests and she very seriously communicates the consequences of doing so. Under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, individuals who commit misdemeanor violations against birds included in the act can face fines of up to $500 and up to six months in jail. Felony violations are even higher.
Johnson shared a few horror stories of individuals killing baby swallows and discarding their nests, and she wants to encourage people to see the positive aspects of co-habiting with swallows.
"People should watch this miracle of the swallows growing," Johnson said. "It’s a chance to see something wonderful, instead of just focusing on the droppings."