Structural and Public Health Pests: Birds


Birds are an attractive component of the exterior environment of a school. Under certain circumstances, and in sufficient numbers, some species can become pests and even health and safety hazards. Most bird species (including active nests, eggs, and young) are protected under federal and state wildlife laws. Even the small number that are not federally protected may have local or state humane ordinances that regulate how the birds may be handled.

Three species unprotected by federal and most state wildlife laws are among those most frequently causing problems on buildings: the rock pigeon, European starling and house sparrow. Problems are usually associated with their nests and/or fecal droppings. Nests on buildings can be unsightly, block ventilation systems and attract other pests such as bird mites or dermestid beetles. Accumulations of droppings can be a health hazard and deteriorate building surfaces.

Flocks of water birds, especially Canada geese and gulls, are an increasing problem on school grounds, especially athletic fields. In addition to being a nuisance, these species may damage turf, deteriorate pond environments and create potential health hazards including slippery footing for athletes due to copious amounts of fecal droppings.

A wide range of other situations may result in birds becoming pests at schools. Roosting turkey vultures can become a nuisance because of their distinctive sights and smells. Gulls may harass young children for food. Swallows may nest on the sides of school buildings, creating a problem with droppings and mites or dermestids left behind after they move on.

Crows have been known to damage certain roofing materials. Woodpeckers often drill into wooden buildings. Mississippi kites will dive at people near their nests. Blackbird roosts in trees can be a locally intense problem.

Table 1
Bird species most likely to become pests in school environments.

Common and species name Geographic distribution
Rock Pigeon (formerly known as rock dove; also feral domestic pigeon), Columba livia Throughout the US.
European starling, Sturnus vulgaris Throughout the US.
House sparrow (also known as English sparrow), Passer domesticus Throughout the US.
Canada Goose (resident, largely non-migratory populations), Branta canadensis Throughout the US.
Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis Throughout the US, especially Great Lakes and coastal regions.


Monitoring and inspection for birds

Monitoring for bird problems at schools consists largely of logging and responding to complaints, and regular inspections of building exteriors including roofs. Early nesting efforts at problem sites, especially ventilation features, can be discouraged, removed, and, if possible, prevented from reoccurring by exclusion with netting or spikes. Flocking behavior is generally easier to dissuade before bird patterns are well established.

Cultural and physical options for bird management

Most bird management procedures fall in this category. When possible, the best solution for bird problems is exclusion. This is most practical on buildings. A wide range of approaches are available from common building materials to bird netting, spikes and specialized products including electric tracks. Exclusion of geese and gulls from ponds is also possible using posts and wire or line.

Visual repellents are also available for birds ranging in price and sophistication from simple inflatable plastic balls with large eyespots to mechanical human effigies. The repellent effect is generally immediate but short term. Movement of the devices increases effectiveness, especially if the movement is unpredictable or irregular. Some schools have had success with the use of helikites, kites that use helium to remain in flight during periods of no wind, to dissuade gulls from athletic fields.

Among the most effective auditory devices are those that play distress calls of the target species. Other types of auditory repellents emit loud noises to startle the target. Devices that claim to repel birds by the use of ultrasonic waves not audible to humans have consistently proven to be ineffective.

Trained herding dogs have proven to be one of the most effective means to dissuade geese. Several schools have successfully used this technique, usually by hiring specialty companies which provide and manage trained dogs.

Table 1
Commonly used products for physical, cultural or mechanical management of birds and uses.

Type Example Products Uses
electrified barriers Bird Jolt™ Flat Track Apply to surfaces to deter birds from roosting.
helikites Allsopp Helikites Hawk mimic flies continuously with or without wind for extended periods to deter birds over a large area.
ledge eliminator Bird Slope Ledge Eliminator Apply to ledges to increase slope to discourage birds from roosting.
netting Bird Net 2000™, PermanNet™ Cover voids to prevent access.
post and wire FliteLine®, Springuard™ String wire between posts attached to structures to prevent roosting.
sound generators Bird Chase Super Sonic™, BirdXPeller PRO™, Zon Mark Cannon Device plays distress calls or generates annoying sounds to repel birds.
spikes Bird Spike 2000™ Polycarbonate or steel spikes installed on surfaces to prevent birds from roosting.
trained herding dogs Geese Police Inc. Trained dogs discourage geese.
traps Bird Motel™ Capture pigeons, sparrows, starlings.

Pesticide options for birds

There are few options in this category. Polybutenes form an adhesive surface that is uncomfortable for pigeons and other birds. Several products contain methyl anthranilate meant to make substances, e.g., turf, distasteful to grazing geese.

Avitrol baits are poisons with flock-alarming properties. Birds that have fed upon the bait exhibit distress behavior that frightens the rest of the flock away. The baits are registered as chemical frightening agents (repellents) for use on pigeons, house sparrows, starlings and other species. Although true secondary poisoning does not occur, the product remains toxic to any bird that eats it even once it is in a bird‘s digestive tract. The possibility of a negative public reaction to dying birds needs to be considered when considering the use of Avitrol.

A new product, Ovocontrol, was recently registered for use on pigeons and geese. It reduces reproduction by impacting the hatchability of eggs. This product requires continued use during the breeding season, which can be year round for some species.

Table 2
Commonly used insecticide products for birds and their uses.
a. CAUTION-label formulations.

Active Ingredient Example Products Uses
polybutenes Bird Barrier® 55943-1 Bird-X Bird Proof Gel 8254-3-8708 4 the Birds Transparent Bird Repellant Liquid 8254-3 Tanglefoot Bird Repellent 1621-17 Non-drying solution applied to surfaces to discourage birds from roosting.
methyl anthranilate Migrate™ Turf Spray Rejex-It 58035-9 Spray-applied liquid repellant for turf.

b. More hazardous formulations.

Active Ingredient Example Products Uses
methyl anthranilate GooseChase™ 66550-1 Spray-applied liquid repellant for turf.
4-a minopyridine Avitrol Concentrate 11649-10 Avitrol Double Strength Whole Corn 11649-8 Dust or treated seed, toxic to birds.
nicarbazin Ovotrol P 802249-1 Ovotrol G 80224-5 Restricted use pesticide that suppresses reproduction of pigeons, geese or ducks. Applied as granules to an area that must remain under observation with any bait remaining removed after 30 minutes.

Additional resources for bird management

Arizona Cooperative Extension. 2006. Birds. Pest Press. (PDF)

Curtis, P.D., J. Shultz, L.A. Braband, L. Berchielli and G. Batchelor. 2004. Best Practices for Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators; A Training Manual. NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Hyngstrom, R.M., and G.E. Larson, eds. 1994. Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 2 vols.

Link. R. 2004. Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 350 pp.

Salmon, T.P., D.A. Whisson and R.E. Marsh. 2006. Wildlife Pest Control around Gardens and Homes. University of California. 122 pp.

The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management