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The War of Extermination on the Cliff Swallows

OK, maybe "war of extermination" is a little bit of an exaggeration.

Cliff Swallows are a bird that build weird sort of mud nests on cliffs. If they can't get cliffs, then overhangs on buildings will do. That causes problems at Yellowstone for the people who run the buildings. At the Lake Hotel cabins the swallows love to build their nests above the doorways of the cabins. That causes a problem with the large amounts of bird droppings on the front steps, and occasionally on the guests heads. They also tend to be infested with mites, at least that is what I have been told. The mites can get in the beds and causes problems that way. To top it off, the Cliff Swallow is supposedly an exotic species. The usual policy for exotic species in a national park is to kill them all. In Yellowstone it doesn't seem to be the policy for the Swallows, I don't know of any extermination plan, but the Park Service does like the concessionaires to keep the nests off the cabins.

So what the housekeeping department is supposed to do is to frequently knock the nests down. An unlucky room attendant takes a stick and smashes the nests. If it is done every day the birds don't get far enough along with the nest building to lay their eggs. If it hasn't been done for a while then there are eggs, and it is kind of depressing to kill them. The birds tend to get upset at you too. Sometimes they attack. More often they just fly around and squawk and act pitiful. They keep coming back to the same place day after day. Evidently they either aren't very bright or are very stubborn. Maybe nesting sites are in such sort supply that they have no other choices.

During my second summer in the park I was an inspector. Sometimes I would work in the hotel, and sometimes the cabins. My friend Kevin managed the cabins that year. Kevin liked to give me a hard time when I worked the cabins. Mostly as a way to give him a hard time back I refused to knock the nests down. I also didn't like to knock them down when some of the other employees weren't doing it when it was their turn, at least not an all the cabins, and I would find fully built nests with eggs in them. I wasn't too sure about the exotic species story either. When I flat out refused and the other workers saw me get away with it they all refused to knock the nests down too. So Kevin had to go out and do it himself the rest of the nesting season ha ha ha.

The next summer I managed those same cabins. Uh oh, the shoe is on the other foot now. Only a couple of my employees refused to knock the nests down. That was OK with me. Being the little anarchist I am I told them that they didn't have to do nest patrol if they didn't want to. I wound up doing it a lot of the time.

What was really weird was the answer that I got when I asked why we couldn't put net on the overhangs to keep the birds from nesting in the first place, like they have on the hotel and on the ranger station. My boss Geoff said that the Park Service said it would be interfering with the bird's habitat. Yes this is the same Park Service that wants us to knock the nests down. Go figure the federal government. It was also kind of weird that Geoff got netting put up on his personal cabin. The Hotel has netting on the overhangs, but it has largely fallen off. So the birds get to nest on the Hotel a lot. At the end of the nesting season they usually hose off the nests they can reach with a fire hose. I know, you think I am making this up. I swear it is all true.

copyright Chris Johnson

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