DEAR JOAN: Help! What can I do to discourage swallows from building nests. They prefer the front and rear doors, make an awful mess and dive bomb my elderly parents. I am at my wit's end trying to keep the entrances clean and safe for my folks.
DEAR MAUREEN: Because we are into nesting season, there isn't a lot you can do at the moment. Swallows are a protected species. It is illegal to harm them or remove active nests.
After the babies and parents leave the nests later in the spring or summer, then you can remove their houses and make some changes to discourage them from rebuilding.
Install ¾-inch mesh over the other areas where the birds have nested in the past. Use mounting clips or hooks to hold the mesh in place, but keep an eye out to make sure birds don't get tangled in it.
You can try making your area less enticing to swallows. If you have seed feeders, those are OK -- swallows primarily eat insects. You can try to control flying insects in your yard by making sure your garbage is secured and your yard is clean of things that attract flying bugs. Dump standing water in buckets, kiddie pools and birdbaths. If you want to keep the birdbaths for your other avian visitors, consider putting in a fountain or other device that will stir the water and prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs.
Some folks have had great success using monofilament fishing line, but please use it carefully. You can stretch a single strand in front of the places where they have built nests in the past, securing it at both ends. You could even stretch it from tree to post to pole around your whole house.
Researchers believe the line creates the illusion of a barrier, or the birds may simply fear getting tangled in it, which is a real hazard. If you use the fishing line, please keep an eye on it.
Swallows do a good job of keeping the insect population down in gardens, so it would be nice if you could let them nest in part of your yard. And if you like birds, you may find excluding the swallows will also discourage other birds from visiting.
Shelter needs help
Six cats rescued from a crowded home were counting on the Valley Humane Society to give them a new future, but there's a snag.
The cats may have a viral infection and now need volunteers to take them in for about a month until testing is completed.
The cats may have been exposed to the feline leukemia virus (FeLV), a treatable but highly contagious disease spread primarily through contact with infected saliva. The virus can't be passed to dogs or humans, but the cats need to be kept away from other felines.
The cats must also be kept separated from each other during the testing phase and kept indoors.
Holding six cats for that length of time in separate quarters at the Valley Humane Shelter would overburden the facility's space and send rescue operations into hibernation, officials say.
Sunny, Ribbons, Ruffles and their former housemates are described as "adorable and engaging." All necessary training and supplies will be provided to volunteers who take in the cats. You may also need to take the cat to the Pleasanton-based shelter for testing and vet exams.
If the cats eventually are diagnosed as FeLV-positive, they can be adopted only to homes with other FeLV-positive cats or no cats at all.
Those who can lend a hand can contact the shelter at 925-426-8656.
Joan Morris' column runs five days a week in print and online. Contact her at email@example.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.