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From 30 years ago: The swallows that kept returning

A couple in Calgary went away for the weekend and was surprised to come home to 32 swallows' nests under their roof line in the summer of 1989.

Garden hose would remove their nests, but decoy owl was a more permanent strategy

They went away for the weekend, and came back to 32 swallows' nests. 2:04

A couple in Calgary went away for the weekend and was surprised to come home to 32 swallows' nests under their roof line in the summer of 1989. 

"We left on Friday morning and there were little daubs of mud on the wall," said homeowner Elsien Craik. "And we came back on Monday night and we had 32 swallows' nests on the wall."

'Like something out of ...The Birds'

"We spoke to an exterminator and he said the only thing we could do was hose it down," said Elsien Craik, whose house had become a swallow nesting site. (Newshour/CBC Archives)

Reporter Collene Ferguson said the Craiks had said it "was like something out of Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror movie The Birds."

As Ferguson explained, the birds had never been a problem before then, nesting in a ridge of dirt located well behind the house.

"But when developers started hauling the dirt away, the birds moved to a safer location: the Craiks' house," Fergsuon said.

The CBC camera caught the swallows constantly coming and going, as well as their steady high-pitched chatter.

An exterminator had been called, and he said the nests could be hosed down. Problem was, the birds would just rebuild. 

"He also warned us that within the nest, there is an environment that is conducive to the breeding of a small flea-like insect," added Craik. "And they reproduce in the thousands and they tend to invade your home."

The low-intervention solution

A cheap plastic owl might be enough to keep the swallows away, but it wasn't a sure solution. (Newshour/CBC Archives)

Naturalist Harold Pinel told CBC the garden hose would work, but that the birds would keep coming back until late in the nesting season.

At the Spruce Meadows equestrian centre south of Calgary, groundskeepers had found a longer-term solution: a cheap plastic owl.

"Five years ago I read an article where they had been using them in Ottawa to keep them off the Parliament Buildings," said Don Stalman. "We just decided to give it a try with the inexpensive plastic owls, and we found it to be very effective for us."

Whether that would work for the Craiks was uncertain.

"Experts say some swallows can be fooled by ceramic owls and silhouettes of hawks," noted Ferguson. "But others just ignore them."

Don Stalman said the Spruce Meadows equestrian centre was reluctant to shell out for the expense of a glass-eyed owl, but the cheap plastic ended up working just as well. (Newshour/CBC Archives)