Displacement and relocation

Seventeen years ago, many of the buildings in the hamlet where we live were ruins, abandoned houses and unused barns. It was a haven for the swallows who returned year after year to build their nests in the place where their ancestors had built their nests, as it was also for several owls who floated out of glassless windows silently into the night to control the local rodent population, and called to each other in the dark.

The annual arrival of the first swallows was a moment all the residents looked forward to. “Les hirondelles sont arrivées! Il y en a cette année!” The birds came in large numbers, swooping over the stream and pond to dip for water, and skimming insects from the summer skies to feed their gape-mouthed babies hanging over the nests. As the days shortened and the temperatures began to fall, more birds joined them from the north, assembling for their migration. They crowded the telephone lines, like notes on a music sheet. We could feel their excitement as they squeezed together, sometimes flying around as if limbering up for the task ahead. And then one morning they’d be gone.

Over the years the abandoned houses have been restored and the barns converted. There is nowhere left now for the owls, and when the swallows return they still try, led by their instincts, to access those places that were once their summer homes. We’ve put stickers on the windows and hung string curtains over the doors to stop them coming into the house and injuring themselves. Watching them hovering around trying to find a way to the beams is so sad. And each year fewer and fewer swallows come. And we hardly ever see an owl.

Ah, les hirondelles ne viennent plus,” the neighbours lament. This year there have hardly been any.

But – a couple of weeks ago I went into our small cottage, once a holiday home but now a dumping ground for things we have no use for. The door is always open. We  were going to clear it out, and take the junk to the tip. But as I went through the open door a missile shot past, parting my hair, closely followed by another. On the floor beneath one of the beams was a pile of earth, droppings and fragments of dried grass. On one of the beams, the beginning of a nest. 🙂

The birds need all their agility to navigate through the low, narrow door to their nest. They have to fly low and turn 90° almost immediately, missing a large fridge just inside the door containing the overflow from our kitchen. We need to access it fairly frequently, but try to do so as quietly as possible, ducking before going through the door to avoid being knocked flat by the new residents, who seem unperturbed by our presence. Today, from a safe distance, and with the aid of a mirror, TOH was able to spot 3 eggs in the nest.

The floor is a mess; the junk is acquiring decorative splatters, and the clearing out exercise is on hold until further notice.

I am SO happy that at least one pair of swallows has found somewhere to call home.

Fledglings feeding, June 2010. Copyright Susie Kelly

But what if they return next year, as they surely will? What if the house is eventually sold, and the new owners don’t want swallows living inside the cottage? Any ideas, anyone? Once this little cottage becomes unavailable, they will have run out of places to nest.

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21 thoughts on “Displacement and relocation

  1. I’m so glad you have them…they were a delight every summer and used to nest in the coach house. We kept the door and upstairs window open to give them free access and just put cheap tarps over everything.
    The farmer over the way would scrape down the nests at the first sign, announcing that they were dirty.

  2. when they were building our houses the swallows nested in the empty shells before the roofs went on, they still fly through our door when it’s open and sit on the aircon units and the curtain poles, when I’m in my studio they fly in and sit on the light fittings watching me working, happily they have built, not 1 but 2 nests, in our woodshed, so we have 2 families of them. When we sit outside on the balcony they often ‘dive bomb’ us and as you said ‘part ones hair’ as they do so, we love them and at the moment there are 9 of them in our village.

  3. We had a wonderful crowd of swallows at our first house here – they used to nest in holes in the stonework (Girondin stone is very soft) and of an evening would charge around above the village in circles, squeaking madly, like adolescent ton-up boys.

  4. We don’t get too many swallows as, like you, most of the houses that had glassless windows have been restored. There are a lot of house martins. However, they don’t need to get inside as they nest just under the eaves and gutters.
    We also have barn owls that nest in one of the old open windowed towers of the chateau. They are so ghostly when they fly passed in total silence but simply beautiful.
    But we are blessed for the early part of summer with swifts. They nest in the roof and odd gaps in the stone of the town hall. We are next door and our terrace/patio is in between our house and the swift’s homes. They scream and flash passed in between us, in and out of their nests and can be seen high up swooping around catching goodies. There’s probably forty or more of them before the young ones arrive. They are an absolute delight to hear and watch.
    Luckily we also get quite a few bats flying around at dusk and into the night. They are roosting in attics and various roof spaces in several houses close by. Judging from the droppings in our large grenier they were at one time using our house but I’ve yet to spot one hanging about so they might just have been passing through.
    At Easter this year we had regular visits in the garden from a red squirrel and we think it may have chosen a space in between roof and ceiling to move in. We shall see if he/she is about shortly.
    All these lovely visitors just add to our love of the place.

    • Are you in a village, Pip? We don’t have any swifts around here, but in a small nearby town there are loads, and they do shriek as they whizz around. We have bats, but I haven’t been able to see where they hang out. Thanks so much for the RSPB link, I shall order a couple of those nests and get them put up for next year in the hope that the swallows will return and be prepared to relocate again and let us have our cottage back. We are so lucky to be able to enjoy all these beautiful creatures. 🙂

      • Yes Susie we’re in the very middle of a medieval village. One of the Plus Beaux Villages. Stone built houses with lots of spots for wildlife to discover.
        If you click on my name Pip you’ll go to our website about the village.

  5. It would seem that the RSPB amongst others offer swallow nest boxes but of course you have to have the open access for the birds. In the US they seem to put them on poles in small groups but they must not be too close together. Whether that would work in France I know not.
    The RSPB boxes are here: http://shopping.rspb.org.uk/swallow-nest.html
    Not cheap but they look lovely.

    • I consider it a privilege that they come to lodge with us, and they are welcome to make as much mess as they choose (which is enormous at the moment – all over the floor!). They are here all too briefly, and it’s always a sad moment when they go. Do you have them year-round, or are they seasonal visitors?

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