How to Get Rid of Birds – An Integrated Pest Management Bat Action Plan
Pest birds cause tens of millions of dollars of damage to buildings, automobiles, ventilation systems, and machinery every year. The accumulation of bird droppings is not only unsightly and odorous, it is unsanitary. Bird droppings may be infectious for histoplasmosis and other diseases. Bird droppings are highly acidic and damage roofs, insulation, and heavy equipment. A large population of birds in or near restaurants or schools may contaminate food or food handling areas. In addition, where large populations of birds are present, bird mites are often a problem. Bird mites can bite humans when their preferred host is unavailable.
Despite the risks that birds pose to our homes and businesses, it is our ethical duty to deal with them humanely and respectfully. Many birds found around our homes are not considered to be a pest or invasive species. Varied and diverse species of birds in our neighborhoods should be celebrated. However, when birds nest in buildings and roost in public areas, efforts should be made to encourage the birds to go elsewhere.
Many birds are federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or the Endangered Species Act. In many cases these laws prohibit the trapping or killing of the protected bird, eggs, and their nests. Because they are not native species, the most common nuisance birds are not protected under these Acts. The feral pigeon, house sparrow, and starlings are not protected under these federal laws, but states and local municipalities may have restrictions.
Be sure to check with your local authorities before taking any action against birds. Depending on the target species and state, you may be required to obtain a permit to deal with a bird problem. Other states require wildlife trappers to be licensed and insured. This provides some level of assurance that they are knowledgeable and that the laws are followed, but it makes it more difficult/expensive for a homeowner to take care of the problem.
The laws regulating nuisance birds is convoluted and dependent upon your location and the species of bird. There are exceptions and exclusions within the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but violating this Act may be a federal crime. Contact your local wildlife management authorities for direct guidance specific to your location.
It may seem contradictory to put out bird feeders to attract beautiful songbirds, and at the same time actively work to remove other species of birds from your property. Each species of birds has different tendencies and habits; when bird behaviors cause damage to our homes and businesses and potentially cause a public health risk, action should be taken.
The presence of these birds in unwanted areas can cause damage to property, and their droppings may create unpleasant odors. Bird droppings can also ruin vegetation, painted surfaces, gutters and awnings, and cause electrical equipment to malfunction. Birds may carry disease causing organisms that can infect humans. Bird droppings can promote soil conditions favoring development of such fungal diseases as histoplasmosis.
Large numbers of birds also congregate around food areas (cafeterias, concession areas, garbage cans, vending machines, etc) creating a nuisance to people in the area. House sparrows can damage rigid foam insulation, and their nests can become fire hazards.
Flocks of water birds, especially Canada geese and gulls, are an increasing problem on school grounds, especially athletic fields. In addition to creating a nuisance, these species may damage turf, deteriorate pond environments, and create potential health hazards including slippery footing for athletes due to excessive fecal droppings. Gulls may harass young children for food.
A wide range of other situations may result in birds becoming pests in and around our homes. Roosting turkey vultures can become a nuisance with their distinctive sights and smells. Several species may nest on the outside or above drop ceilings of buildings, creating a problem with droppings and mites or dermestid beetles left behind after they move on. Crows have damaged certain roofing materials. Woodpeckers often drill into wooden buildings and several species will dive at people who come near their nests.
Each person has their own tolerance level for nuisance bird activity. For example, Coconut Grove, a neighborhood in Miami, has been struggling with a peacock issue. Some people can easily hose off the peacock poop from the sidewalk and ignore the screeches, and want the peacocks left alone. Others, who cannot sleep, are afraid of aggressive peacock behavior, and have shoveled much peacock poop want the birds relocated. These issues can be divisive and contentious when neighborhoods must work together to solve a nuisance bird problem.
Bird poop is important in the ecosystem for seed dispersal and increasing the soil quality. However, when large amounts of bird dropping accumulate on roofs, sidewalks, gutters, and other areas, it causes damage to the structure. Unlike mammals, birds do not urinate. They excrete uric acid in their fecal matter. Because of this, bird droppings are highly acidic and can cause damage to vehicle paint, roofs, even stone and metal building materials. Bird droppings not only stain sidewalks and stone buildings, but can cause structural damage. Over time, bird droppings on the roof can eat away at the roof and cause a water leak and subsequent water damage.
In addition to being acidic, bird droppings can carry a number of diseases and parasites. The most common disease found in bird droppings is histoplasmosis. As the droppings dry out, the fungal spores become airborne. This becomes an issue when disturbing to clean large accumulations of bird droppings. It is believed that bird droppings can carry and spread approximately 60 diseases including salmonellosis and e. coli. This underscores the importance of keeping pest birds away from restaurants, commercial kitchens, and food producing facilities.
Aside from the damage to buildings from the accumulation of bird droppings, the excessive presence of birds can pose a fire risk in your house or business. Birds often construct their nests of highly flammable materials. When birds bring tinder into electrical equipment, the risk of an electrical fire is greatly elevated. Bird nests built in chimneys where the nest can block proper airflow are a fire hazard.
Birds nesting in warehouses can cause excessive damage. Birds have easy access when loading dock doors are left open. The high ceilings and crevices in the rafters are safe and convenient nesting spots for birds. Bird droppings can damage or ruin elements of manufacturing processes, especially plastics. Birds can damage inventory and cause distractions for warehouse workers operating heaving equipment such as a forklift. Particularly in food processing facilities, birds can contaminate the food causing a significant economic loss to the business.
The first step in your bird control protocol should be identification of the pest bird. If you cannot positively identify the bird, consult an expert before taking action. Once you know the bird species, check the local, state, and federal regulations related to this species. While nature never fails to delight and surprise us, there are a few main species of birds that tend to come into conflict with humans. By understanding the behaviors and instincts of your nuisance bird, you can gain faster and more effective control.
Pigeons are the most common nuisance bird we deal with. They gather in large numbers in urban areas where food is plentiful. Their fecal matter accumulates on sidewalks and buildings they frequent and ultimately may cause damage and disease. They often nest in a nook, cranny, or ledge on either cliffs or manmade structures. They seek shelter beneath eaves, overpasses, or any other overhang. Pigeons may also nest in stairwells, in rooms of abandoned buildings, or even rain gutters.
Pigeons are monogamous and will return to their same nest year after year. Over time, their once flimsy nest becomes hardened and pot like with fecal matter and hatched eggs. After deterring or repelling pigeons from an area, sanitation is imperative.
House sparrows are extremely common across North America since their introduction around 1850. House sparrows have a tendency to displace native bird species, and prefers to nest in manmade structures such as eaves or walls of buildings, or street lights. Sparrows also build nests in chimneys gutters, on roofs and building ledges, and within billboards and electric signs. In nature, sparrows nest in trees and shrubs, but they have grown increasingly comfortable in and around human structures. Their nests may increase risk of fire, flood damage, and may contain disease causing bacteria.
Starlings are an invasive species and a nuisance due to their overwhelming flocking behavior. They nest together in large flocks and can be quite noisy. Thousands of these birds flock in and around airports, industrial facilities, parking lots, golf courses, and residential neighborhoods. The feces from these large flocks can cause damage to structures and create slip and fall hazards. Starlings cause damage to agricultural crops and eat livestock feed placed out by cattle and swine producers. Starlings often nest in holes in trees, but within human structures, you will often find a startling nest in gutters, eves, vents, and ductwork.
Grackles live year-round in the southeastern United States, but they migrate North and to the Midwest during the summer. Grackles can be aggressive eaters and are often seen bullying other birds at birdfeeders. They are known to attack the nests of other birds to eliminate the competition in the area. Grackles are a threat to agricultural crops, most notably to corn. Grackles rarely nest in our homes and structures, but they accumulate in large flocks; sometimes grackle flocks near 1 million grackles.
Canadian geese are considered by many to be a nuisance. Many flocks of geese have settled into neighborhoods, where parks, ponds, golf courses, and expansive lawns make for an enticing habitat. Geese graze on well-manicured lawns potentially causing damage to the lawn, but also depositing large amounts of fecal matter in and around the yard, golf course, or athletic field. Geese fiercely protect their nests and their young and will attack humans if they feel threatened.
Exclusion is the best way to prevent bird entry and adoption of buildings as roost sites. The most practical method is to look for areas that can become common nesting/roosting areas and develop exclusion methods to prevent the birds from nesting on your business property or your home.
A wide range of nesting deterrents are available. Every situation is unique and dependent upon the bird species, the construction materials and architecture of your building. If possible, deterring birds should be a part of the design review phase, prior to construction or renovation. Some of these nesting deterrents have a high upfront cost as they are often custom built specific to the building, but if properly installed can save you a multitude of issues in the future.
Bird netting is an effective deterrent to keep birds away from and out of buildings. Nets are sometimes custom built to keep birds out of your exact building, have a low visual profile, and are humane. Bird netting is available in different size mesh depending upon the size bird you are trying to exclude. Bird netting works well in warehouses, barns and other open rafter buildings, loading docks, airplane hangars, and storefronts. Make sure to place the netting in a way that you can access the rafters, ceiling fans, lighting, or other necessary equipment. Mesh bird nets are generally durable and resistant to UV rays, but exposure to the elements may eventually damage the net.
Are birds eating your blueberries? Bird netting is most commonly used in commercial applications rather than homeowner situations. However, garden netting can protect your tomatoes, blueberries, or strawberries from being pecked to oblivion by the birds. Mesh material is easily available if you wish to cover anything from small tomato plant to a large mango tree.
When birds are nesting on the window ledges or the roof line, bird spikes are a simple and effective long lasting tool to convince the birds to vacate the area. Bird spikes are available in either stainless steel or plastic and prevent birds from landing on the ledge. These spikes are pre-engineered in certain length and width sections. They are easy to install; the base can either be screwed into or glued onto nearly any surface. Specialized spikes are made for a variety of applications including trees, gutters, and spikes with a flexible base to go around curves. Bird spikes are a durable, cost efficient nuisance bird solution, however to some they are not aesthetically pleasing.
Rather than placing spikes on window ledges and around the roof line, you can install essentially a slide. On a ledge with a 90° angle, a piece of sturdy weather proof material installed at around a 45° angle will cause the birds to be unable to land on the edge and get a good grip. The smooth slippery surface and angle of the installation will cause birds to slide right off. If they can not comfortably perch on the ledge, they will likely vacate the area. These products are available in different materials such as PVC or Polycarbonate. Ensure the ends are closed and sealed well to prevent other wildlife from nesting inside. When color matched to the building, these angle deterrent systems look like they are a part of the design of the building.
The lowest profile and least visible of all bird deterrents is a tape with electrified currents running through it. When the birds land on the tape, they receive a static like shock which does not harm the birds, but teaches them to stay off this building. Commercial quality electrical tracks require a somewhat involved installation, but some homeowner versions are powered by solar or 110 volt charger. These products can easily flow around curves and details of architecture and are virtually undetectable from a distance.
When properly installed, bird wire offers an uneven perching surface to birds. To birds, this is not ideal or comfortable, so they often leave to find a more comfortable resting spot. Bird wire is low-profile and often used on historic buildings because it does not distract from the architecture of the building, but it effectively keeps birds away, thus protecting the building. Bird wire can be installed on any surface that will support vertical posts. It works by connecting spring tension wire to two vertical posts. The posts are different heights. When the wire connects to the posts, the wire is at an angle. The hardware used for this device are usually stainless steel and highly durable.
Electronic Bird Repellers or audio deterrents may also be considered. These systems broadcast a mix of distress calls from pest bird species and calls from birds of prey. Effectiveness ranges greatly depending on the quality of the system and the level of ongoing maintenance. The systems need to be maintained regularly (every one to two weeks) to change the calls so the pest birds do not become accustomed to the recording. The high initial cost and ongoing maintenance costs of these systems may mean they are not very practical in many situations.
*Products listed are not endorsements, just examples.
Birth control for birds is considered by many to be the most humane form of nuisance bird control. This product is most commonly used to control pigeons, but may be used to control geese as well. Automatic feeders are placed in areas of high bird activity, such as a flat roof top. This product is best utilized to control birds in large areas where exclusion is difficult, such as power plants, manufacturing plants, oil refiners, college campuses, or railyards.
The birds are fed regularly with cracked corn. They are steadily conditioned to expect the food and come to the feeder before the food is available. The cracked corn is then gradually replaced with a product called Ovocontrol®. Ovocontrol® does not harm or hurt the birds. Rather, it is feed with an additional ingredient that causes the bird eggs to not hatch. Ovocontrol® should be used during mating and egg laying season, which is year-round for some species. To be effective, birds need a constant dose of Ovocontrol during this time and thus requires frequent maintenance of feeders. This is expensive and impractical for many situations.
*Products listed are not endorsements, just examples.
There are many products designed to deter birds from your structure. Another option for repelling birds is a chemical repellent. PiGNX®, with capsaicin as the active ingredient, is used to prevent the roosting & congregation of pigeons in unwanted areas. PiGNX® Caulking Gel acts as a bio-repellent and deterrent for pigeons. The active ingredient capsaicin is the same ingredient used in pepper spray. It is very irritating to people when touched. This product is applied like caulk to areas where birds frequent. Applicators need to wear gloves and the product must be placed out of the reach of children.
Bird Stop®, and other methyl anthranilate repellents can be sprayed on food sources, roosting areas, shrubs, and many other areas. It works by irritating pain receptors associated with birds’ senses of taste and smell, but does not harm them. Birds find this compound unpleasant and tend to avoid treated materials. The active ingredient is an extract from grapes and is even approved for direct spray on several food crops. It has a mild “grape-soda” odor to people, but is highly repellent to birds.
Tactile repellents are also available. Repellents containing polybutenes form a tacky, non-drying, adhesive surface that is uncomfortable for pigeons and other birds. Polybutylene repellents can be applied to ledges or beams to prevent roosting. These repellents are non-toxic, but feel sticky and unpleasant to birds attempting to land. Apply repellent in tight, wavy, closely spaced rows. Repellents must be reapplied with some frequency as they can become coated with dust or leaves and lose their sticky feel. Apply to carefully selected areas. When tactile repellents become covered in dust and dirt they look very unsightly. Apply masking tape to the surface prior to using the repellent so that it may be more easily cleaned up and reapplied. Repellents are best suited for small- or medium- sized infestations.
As evidenced by the brief discussion of bird deterrent systems and chemicals available, there are many effective options for controlling birds. A homeowner should never attempt to bait or poison birds. Baiting for birds, should it become absolutely necessary, should be left to professionals. The only approved product, Avitrol®, is a Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP). This means homeowners and traditional business owners can not legally purchase this product. Should you decide, in conjunction with Pest Management Professionals and bird specialists, that baiting is your only option, be prepared for adverse public reactions and negative media attention should this endeavor go wrong. The media has reported in the past about birds treated with Avitrol “falling from the sky” and crashing to the ground around schools, restaurants, and other areas where Avitrol was improperly applied. Many schools districts and some pest management companies will not use this product because of the risk of children and other non-target species ingesting Avitrol®-treated bait.
Once the birds are under control using the above described devices or repellents, the task of cleaning up the birds damage must ensue. Accumulations of bird droppings can damage and deface buildings and harbor disease causing bacteria. Precautions should be used when cleaning bird droppings and only healthy, non-immune compromised individuals should be involved with this process. Bird droppings can contain the fungal spores of histoplasmosis which becomes airborne when disturbed. We recommend following CDC guidelines when cleaning up after a bird infestation.
- Lightly dampen droppings with water and a surfactant (soapy solution) to minimize dust and fungal spore dispersal into the air.
- Using a HEPA vacuum to remove large deposits of droppings
- Identify the appropriate disposal requirements for potentially histoplasmosis-contaminated waste. Requirements vary between counties and states and may be in landfill with prior arrangement or may need to be incinerated.
- Wear appropriate PPE. This should include:
- disposable gloves
- disposable protective clothing (with hood if dust can fall from above)
- shoe covers
- respirator with eye protection that is capable of filtering particles smaller than 2 microns in diameter
- All disposable clothing should be sealed in a bag and disposed along with waste.
A broad-spectrum EPA approved disinfectant may be used after the dropping removal to kill any remaining bacteria.
Birds can be associated with mites, ticks, fleas, and flies. When birds are removed from above occupied areas such as offices and classrooms these pests often migrate down into these areas and feed on people. This often only lasts a short period of time, but can make the area temporarily uninhabitable. Detailed sanitation including removal of all nest material and fecal matter and vacuuming will reduce these pests. In extreme cases, a desiccant dust or fogging may also be required after thorough sanitation to knock-down mites, ticks, or fleas.