The chirps from a nest full of baby birds can be a delightful sign of spring. Unless, of course, they come from a nest situated directly over your grooming space or feed-storage area.
You can’t fault birds for nesting in your barn rafters; the space is dry, out of reach of most predators and within easy swooping range of spilled grain. But the mess a bird family makes through droppings can try the patience of even the most avian-friendly barn owner.
Droppings from birds aren’t likely to spread disease to your horse here in North America, but they do contain fungi and other microorganisms that you’ll want to avoid. And the mites sometimes found in the nests themselves may cause itchy reactions if they drop onto creatures below.
To make your barn less hospitable for nesting this spring, start rolling up the welcome mat now. Begin by keeping a fastidiously clean feed room, which will minimize the opportunities for free meals. Then block access to favorite nesting spots by stretching hardware mesh and bird netting below rafters. Remember that birds may simply set up housekeeping in another location inside the barn, so focus your efforts on specific areas you want to keep clear, such as over water buckets or your saddle racks. You can also try using “scarecrows” of fake owls and hawks, but many birds see through this ruse and end up nesting right next to the very object that’s meant to repel them.
If you notice a nest being built and the birds are not of a protected species, encourage them to relocate by removing it. You’ll probably need to do this several times because many birds will attempt rebuilding in the same spot before moving along. If there are eggs, chicks or fledglings in the nest, you’ll need to reconcile with your own conscience before disposing of it. The better option may be to move any buckets or stored items beneath it.
Keep in mind that barn swallows and many other birds eat an astonishing amount of insects each day. These insects would otherwise pester you and your horse and possibly transmit diseases. Also remember that nesting season is brief; once the babies leave the nest, most adult birds tend to relocate outdoors, making themselves less of a nuisance. With this in mind, you may opt to tolerate, and even enjoy, your spring-time tenants.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #450, March 2015.