Swallows have already begun migrating to the Park City area from South America. Their nests, which many people find unsightly due to their accompanying
Swallows have already begun migrating to the Park City area from South America. Their nests, which many people find unsightly due to their accompanying droppings, are protected under federal law. (Photo courtesy of C.J. Johnson)

With the coming of spring, migratory swallows have begun making their way north, and many are in the process of building their nests in the Park City area. C.J. Johnson, a local bird activist, wants residents to know that swallow nests should not only be left alone because of the beauty and value of swallows, but because removing them violates federal law.

Known for their unique aerobatics and ability to eat nearly their body weight in mosquitoes every day, many swallows have migrated from South America to central states in the U.S. by April.

Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, swallows are one of the many native bird species whose nests cannot be disturbed. The Act is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and illegal tampering with a native bird nest (with some exceptions) can carry a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $15,000.

Johnson said she has previously accosted homeowners and business owners who have removed swallow nests from their properties, even threatening to report them. She said she is dedicated to raising awareness about swallows.

"I hate people getting mad at me; I hate being the bad guy," Johnson said. "I just have to be brave, face the anger and speak up for these birds."

Johnson said she realizes that swallow droppings, which cluster under the nest, are individuals' biggest peeves. The large amount of mosquitoes swallows eat, as well as their beautiful song and aerobatics, more than make up for the droppings, she said.

Swallows often have two batches of babies in this area, Johnson said, which can mean up to four babies per batch. They typically remain in the area until the end of September before migrating south.

Once a nest is made and eggs are inside, it is protected and cannot be moved unless it poses a danger or immediate health risk, Johnson said. Under those circumstances, an individual still must obtain a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove any baby birds inside, which will be brought to a bird rehabilitator.

Johnson said she will often take birds to Candy Carlsen, a bird rehabilitator in Salt Lake, and said many in the Park City area call her to do so. She said she is heartbroken every time someone removes a swallow nest or destroys swallow eggs or babies.

"People are unknowingly destroying something incredible that traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles to come here," Johnson said.