Swallows’ nests flushed at Aces’ ballpark

The cleanup violated federal law; stadium management regrets error

SCREENGRAB: A worker on a lift uses a power washer to blast away swallows' nests under the awning of Greater Nevada Field's main gate on June 18.

Greater Nevada Field used a lift truck and a power washer to scour away the nests of migratory swallows who had set up housekeeping at the Reno stadium, scattering scores of adult birds and presumably killing their hatchlings.

The field’s management said workers were following advice given by a pest-control company and they were unaware that the removals were prohibited.

“We feel really bad about it,” said Kevin Bass, spokesman for Greater Nevada Field. He said that if the workers had seen eggs or chicks involved, they could have stopped the process. “But the (U.S. Fish and) Wildlife people told us that the eggs would have been wrapped up in the nesting material and (workers) wouldn’t have seen anything, so there may have been eggs or chicks there; that just made us all feel horrible.”

The work took place on June 18 and attracted the attention of a passerby, who shot cell phone video of the process.

VIDEO/MELIISSA GUELLER: Swallows swarm near Greater Nevada Field June 18 as a worker destroys their nests with a power washer.

Witness Melissa Gueller could see swallows swarming around the baseball stadium as she drove back to her office. She’s the director of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, located across from the stadium on Second Street.

The birds were agitated and flew in swarm, circling and diving around the area near the ball field’s main entrance.

The birds swarmed 

“It felt like you were in a snow globe,” she said. As she neared the stadium, she saw someone on an aerial lift who was using a power washer to blow away the nests accumulated beneath the awning above the facility’s main entrance. She used her phone to document the incident.

“And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s terrible,’ because right now is their nesting time where they’re raising their young and having eggs,” Gueller said. “I also know that they’re federally protected and once swallows are established enough, you’re not supposed to remove them because they’re migratory.”

IMAGE/WIKIMEDIA: A pair of cliff swallows at their nest, which is made of more than a thousand mud pellets. Each pellet represents a trip to a river bank or marshy area.

Nests probably contained eggs, hatchlings

Gueller said swallows frequently nest in their Somersett neighborhood. Her husband is a birder, and told her that swallows are protected, especially during nesting season. She reached out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to report the incident.

“The power washer folks were so close to the awning, so it wasn’t like they were blasting them from down below,” she said. “To be kind of close with the nests, knowing that there were birds living in it, and potentially babies, to me, that was extremely disturbing.”

Bass, the stadium’s spokesman, said that the birds built their nests while the field and its offices were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nests under the awning are in a really inconvenient spot,” he said. “We were worried about people getting dropped on.”

‘Now we know’

He said the management called a pest-control company for advice and to find out if any laws or regulations might be involved. “They said get rid of the nests and put netting up so they can’t come back. We thought we did the right thing. Now we know that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Bass said the stadium has taken steps to protect a hawk, named Kevin, who nests on one of the light poles and that a stray cat named Smalls has taken up residence in the ground-crew area.

“We’re not trying to be mean to animals,” he said. “We followed (the pest-control company’s) plan. We’re baseball guys and we don’t know about birds and regulations…  We thought we were asking experts. We thought we had the right advice.”

Bass declined to identify the contractor involved.

Seasonal residents in Northern Nevada

Swallows are migratory birds that fly from their winter quarters in Central America to northern climes to nest and lay their eggs on the side of cliffs, under bridges or beneath the eaves of buildings. Northern Nevada is home to six different swallow species, according to the Lahontan Audubon Society.

PHOTO/WIKIMEDIA: A cliff swallow.

David Jickling, president of the Lahontan Audubon Society, said the incident was also reported to the society, and members contacted stadium officials. He said although federal law has penalties attached to violations of the Migratory Bird Act, “because the (swallows) are not threatened or endangered, I suspect a simple written notice from the Fish and Wildlife Service informing them of the violation is all that will result. Typically, mitigation measures prior to the nesting season are put in place.”

He said the birds are a benefit to the area. “Swallows also work as insect controllers, feeding off of swarms of mosquitoes, bees, wasps, and flies,” he said.

The wildlife service hasn’t issued an official statement and declined to comment on its investigation, but Mary Lou Cotton shared on Nextdoor the email response she received from the agency. She reached out to them after seeing Gueller’s video on a local Facebook group for birders. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s response to Mary Lou Cotton’s inquiry was posted on the Nextdoor.com site.

Gueller said her biggest concern was getting the word out about the importance of swallows in an urban environment.

“If you see these swallow nests, even though they could be creating a nuisance or being dirty or whatever, you shouldn’t remove them, because these birds depend on being able to have a place to come in and nest, to raise their young,” she said.

“I really hope that the ballpark issues an apology and that they take proper mitigation efforts in the future so that they’re not blasting down already-established nests.” 

Reno News & Review editor Frank X. Mullen contributed to this story.
SCREENGRAB: A worker on a lift uses a power washer to blast away swallows’ nests under the awning of Greater Nevada Field’s main gate on June 18.

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3 Comments

  1. This story is sooooo disturbing. The ballpark states that they were advised by a pest-control contractor, but they decline to name the contractor. The public may not need to know the name of the contractor, but Nevada Fish & Wildlife should certainly be able to be apprised of the contractor’s name to determine that the contractor in fact corrected their erroneous information, and to determine as well if that is the actual truth.

    • I found out after our story was published that the company involved was Natura Pest Control. The Reno Gazette-Journal also did a story on the incident a couple days after ours and quoted the company as saying that “no nests were removed.” I don’t know if the worker in the photo and the video (posted with our story) was an employee of the stadium or Natura. But those are cliff swallows’ nests in the images and they definitely were flushed away with the power-washer as shown in the video. The firm’s owner also was quoted as saying the birds were “martins,” not swallows. That’s incorrect, but even if that was true, martins also are covered under the Migratory Bird Act of 1918.

  2. The “stadium” must assume responsivity since they called “pest control” and not a wildlife agency. In other words, the birds were already labeled as pests. It’s a shame but hopefully many people are now informed of the correct way to handle situations regarding wildlife, including the Pest Control people who now know to refer the caller to the proper people.

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