Birds can play the blame game, too

Farm Forum

A pair of barn swallows fell in love with our front porch. I don’t blame them: it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a South Dakota summer. There are flowers nearby, green grass, gentle breezes, shade from the sun, and a covered roof from the rain. You can watch the small town happenings from our front porch: the bicyclists and motorists, the kids playing baseball to the south and basketball to the west.

So part of me didn’t mind the birds building a home right there on the frame of our front door. Yet I couldn’t allow it. Baby birds wouldn’t be happy once summer hit and that door was constantly swinging open and shut.

See, it was mid-May when I first caught the pair of swallows trying to build a nest. Back then our front door was very quiet. We were slipping out the garage door at sunrise, some of us not returning again until after dark. Once things settled down in the fields—the front door became an active place again.

Plus, barn swallows like to return year after year (after year) to the same nesting spot. And they are messy. All that mud they were carrying in their beaks was speckling our clean white door, the siding, and the porch pillar. I won’t even mention their other droppings. Those were everywhere as well. Yet I had to admire their tenacity and work ethic. They made hundreds of mud-gathering trips just to build the support to eventually frame in a nest. It was awesome to see them in action. I marveled at how they knew instinctively (without any floor plans!) how to build a sturdy foundation.

Admiration aside, I defended the front porch from their daily assaults. In my sternest ‘mom’ voice, I told them to stop. They listened. Until the next day when they returned with beaks full of fresh mud and dead grass. Its times like that (trying to get animals to listen to me) that I wished I’d paid better attention to Grandpa and Dad’s admonishments to the dogs and the cows. They’d start out in English but it wasn’t until they switched to German that the animals actually listened.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Dennis and I were enjoying a morning cup of coffee on the front porch. The barn swallows showed up with full beaks again. They were oblivious to the two humans sitting so close to the door. I jumped up from the bench and waved my hands about, scolding them loudly. “Go build somewhere else!”

Dennis laughed, “They aren’t going to listen to you. They don’t understand what you are saying!”

I explained that I’d been chasing off this same determined couple for weeks. I was going to stop them before they could lay eggs (at that point, I would have let them win).

The swallows had become quite brave by that morning of our final showdown. They flittered around on the porch in protest, mud flying as they swooped up and down in anger, their forked tails nearly braising my head. After weeks of confrontations, they had had enough. So had I.

I switched to the quiet-but-I-mean-it approach. When they returned with more mud, my hands stayed at my sides and I simply stood in their pathway and said ‘no’ in a quiet voice.

They finally flew away, chirping like mad. When I sat down again my coffee had gone cold. “Boy you really ticked them off!” Dennis said. It did seem that they were hollering at me, at first. But as I watched them leave the yard, coming in closer to one another and then weaving back out again—it was clear that they were arguing, heatedly, with one another.

I could imagine what their bird-versation was about. The husband probably said, “I told you that was a dumb spot to build a nest!” and the wife likely returned, “Well if you know so much why don’t you take the lead then? Every year I am the one who does the bulk of the nest building!” To which the husband countered, “Yes, but who is the one protecting the babies all summer long—certainly not you!”

Regardless of the real meaning behind their angry chirping: I saw my marriage in those birds. As we came through another spring of long hours, cold suppers, and grouchy phone calls (followed by apologetic ones), the birds at our door reminded me that other couples were enduring the same things. Indeed, many out there are working overtime for something to give to their offspring.

But never mind the nostalgic stuff. Those argumentative birds on our front porch also reminded me of another ‘perk’ of partnership: you have someone to blame when something goes wrong.

Andrea Beyers lives in Roscoe. Contact her at