Services & Maintenance: Flight Plan
By Greg Baumann
Published in the July 2010 issue of Today's Facility Manager
Facility managers (fms) have a plethora of issues to address on a daily basis. From construction to sanitation to security, nearly every project within a commercial or institutional facility is undertaken with the involvement of the fm. It is under this broad list of issues that pest management falls. And certainly, pests such as rodents, cockroaches, mosquitoes, and ants are top of mind when fms address pest management.
Yet, in recent years, a special subset of pest management—bird control—has emerged as a growing challenge. This area has proven to be just as critical to address as rodents, cockroaches, and other pests. Although fms may not immediately view an increased bird population as a significant issue, the fact remains that development of a nuisance bird infestation can pose serious threats to any property. (For tips on protecting historic buildings, see the sidebar below.)
Nuisance birds, such as pigeons and European Starlings, rely heavily upon human beings (and the conditions created by them) to thrive. Pigeons are extremely well adapted to survive in environments where ledges and overhangs abound, providing adequate habitats. Pigeons feed on a varied diet and will seek out—and ultimately exploit—any range of foods with seeds and grains, even in processed foods. With an adequate food supply, pigeons will find nesting sites, often within dark enclosures, where they can breed consistently.
European Starlings will eat almost anything, including fruits and seeds. As lowland birds, Starlings often target sewage treatment facilities, garbage dumps, food facilities, urban areas, and any other source of food for their meals. Traveling in flocks of hundreds, and not uncommonly thousands, Starlings can infest properties and facilities quickly, creating nests as well as immediate sanitation problems.
The habits of these types of common nuisance birds and their needs can make facilities ripe for an infestation. And should this type of situation develop, the harm and ongoing issues caused can be quite significant for a facility management department. Notably, birds can cause substantial property damage, which is a natural concern to fms due to the expense of making these repairs.
Bird droppings, especially those from pigeons and European Starlings, are not only unsightly, but they are also extremely corrosive and can accelerate the aging of buildings and affect structural stability. The accumulation of these can also create slippery conditions that pose safety hazards to those in and around a facility. (Even in places where people do not walk, fms can face problems with bird droppings, such as on the glass canopy shown in the "Before" and "After" photos below.)
Other types of birds, such as woodpeckers, can cause holes in wood and/or damage to wood siding. This type of property damage can result in ongoing structural issues, along with the accompanying repair costs.
Further, the health risks associated with nuisance birds are well documented. Bird droppings often contain a fungus that, if touched by humans, can result in histoplasmosis, a debilitating disease that causes flu like symptoms. Perhaps more importantly, though, birds can serve as carriers of various life threatening diseases including Avian Influenza, salmonella, and West Nile virus (WNV), which can be spread to humans by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds. The frequency of these diseases, specifically Avian flu and WNV, has increased exponentially in recent years, highlighting the greater risk of disease associated with bird infestations in and around a facility.
Taking Proactive Steps To Keep The Birds Away
Fms can implement various practical measures to reduce the attractiveness of their properties to birds and to reduce the threats these animals pose to health and property. Below are just a few proactive steps fms can take to prevent nuisance bird infestations:
- Clean rain gutters regularly to eliminate water sources that are attractive to birds.
- Maintain trash areas in order to minimize food sources for birds. This includes securing all garbage containers properly around the facility to prevent foraging.
- Keep doors closed, and windows should be properly screened so birds cannot enter the utility areas of the facility.
- Eliminate standing water on roofs and on the ground.
- Seal areas where the birds may nest, such as overhangs and supports around the building.
- Install fine mesh wire screens under decks, stairways, and the like, so birds cannot roost or nest underneath those structures.
An fm cannot be everywhere at all times, no matter how attentive. In seeking to prevent birds, it is important that fms communicate information to employees and encourage vigilance. Often it can be the daily habits of those within the facility that impede the best efforts to pest proof a structure. From securing daily garbage to recognizing an increased appearance of birds to keeping doors and windows properly screened and/or closed, employees can play a proactive role in preventing bird and other pest infestations.
When Birds Have Already Infiltrated
Sometimes, despite the best preventive efforts, there will be occasions where nuisance bird infestations will still occur. Bird control is considered a specialty in pest management, and it often requires special equipment, licensing, and training. When seeking a service provider to keep birds away, fms should pursue a company that possesses:
- state licenses explicitly covering bird control;
- adequate proof of insurance; and
- extensive experience in bird control work, especially with commercial facilities.
A professional can provide a terrific level of expertise in recommending how to rid the property of nuisance birds, and he or she can also help to identify vulnerable areas in and around the facility to prevent future infestations. (To read more about tools that can be used to keep birds away, see the sidebar below.)
A Final Note
Although birds may not be considered a traditional pest concern for facilities, the health threats and potential property damage associated with an increased population of these animals have serious consequences. As with other pests, bird control must be considered a significant part of facility maintenance.
Working with a pest management professional—one with substantive experience in bird control—reflects a genuine effort to provide a healthier, better maintained property for those within a facility. These simple, yet important, actions can help fms to keep from incurring unnecessary damage to a physical structure, to the health of those within the facility, and ultimately to the organization’s bottom line if a bird infestation remains untreated.
Baumann is the senior scientist for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). Founded in 1933, this Fairfax, VA-based non-profit organization (www.pestworld.org) is committed to the protection of public health, food, and property. Through its efforts, NPMA represents the interests of its members and the structural pest control industry while also focusing on consumer education of pests and pest related issues
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