The More You Know About Bird Control…

When facility conditions are ripe for attracting pest birds, the end game is all about results.

By Heath Waldorf
From the August 2018 Issue

As a facility manager you will likely have to deal with a pest bird problem, if you haven’t already. Some problems are purely aesthetic and relatively benign. However, should these problems be left to fester, the consequences are costly to address. It may be as small as the complaints from people whose cars get targeted by birds in a parking garage. Perhaps it is something worse like a drain clogged with bird droppings that causes water to pool on a flat open roof. Worse still, it could be that gulls peck holes in a membrane roofing system.

pest birds
The New Whitney Museum in New York City offers all the elements bird seek—food from vendors and an outdoor cafe, shelter under the adjacent High Line park (a former elevated train line), and lots of southern sun. It’s a good thing there are only a few places birds can roost on this beautifully designed structure. Those, however needed protection systems.

We’re talking primarily about urban pest birds that flock to structures—pigeons, sparrows, starlings, and gulls. These unprotected pest species are treated using commonly accepted and widely available solutions. In certain environments, however, other species may be the culprit and would require more specialized attention from a company intimately knowledgeable in the alternative measures that apply. That’s why it’s important to work with an appropriately capable company to provide a solution.

In an ideal world, architects would create buildings that are Birdproof by Design™ meaning that the opportunity for birds to become a problem during the operations stage of the facility life cycle is diminished as a preventive measure. Unfortunately, design decisions are broadly made for aesthetic reasons rather than bird prevention. As such, it is difficult to ensure bird proofing through design alone and still achieve the desired visual stimulus of building design. A pretty close example would be the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, a giant glass pyramid with sloping facades and no ledges. Still, there are surfaces that needed integrated protection systems under the Sphinx head entryway.

Before we move to the discussion of contracting for bird control solutions, let’s explore the some of the reasons why a building or facility may be experiencing a bird related problem. There are three main factors that influence bird behavior—Food, Sun, and Shelter. Birds do not need all three at your site for you to experience an infestation. The birds may be residing at your site but finding food elsewhere. Conversely, they may be at your site for a quality food source and living nearby. Facility managers should consider these aspects about their buildings.

  • Proximity to an existing infestation: neighboring buildings, highway overpasses, train trestles
  • Proximity to food sources: parks, public spaces, garbage dumpsters, food vendors, landfills, beaches, marsh/wetlands
  • Exterior design: sheltered ledges, exposed ledges with desirable vantage points, courtyards, canopies, mechanical equipment enclosures
  • Facility use: waste collection/storage, outdoor eating areas, overflow from operations (food production or ethanol processing, for example)

To prevent bird related problems, there are measures that can be taken by facility management to effect positive change. For example, installing garbage cans in the immediate vicinity of outdoor eating areas encourages better waste management and reduces food sources for pest birds. Site garbage should be stored indoors or in completely covered encasements. One can install “Do Not Feed Birds” signs to discourage feeders. In sites where overhead doors are left open, consider installing high speed roll up screen doors which allow for airflow that workers demand but keep a barrier in place to prevent unfettered access by pest birds.

The other thing to remember about pest birds is that they prefer habitats where they have easy access to roosts but in locations not easily accessible for people. This often makes remedying problems costly due to the boom lifts and scaffolding required to reach these areas. Remediation of bird droppings and installation of measures in response to a bird problem puts a strain on maintenance budgets. The costs involved often become capital expense which reduces the ability to act in an expeditious manner.

When seeking a solution, it is important to avoid limiting analysis to the bottom line cost versus deciding based on a real understanding of the treatment being applied with the associated logistics and a thorough evaluation of the quality of the vendor. Everyone appreciates saving money, but try getting the birds to read the contract!

You cannot save enough money to make up for if the workers supplied by a low price vendor are inexperienced and drill holes through a parapet cap into a void or use a caulk product on ledges that melts in summer heat and runs down the building façade.

Bird control is a blend of environmental science, technical know-how, and project management. The art is weaving the various elements into a successful project.

Ask three companies that sell bird control solutions—be it product manufacturers or system installers—how to address a bird problem and you’ll likely get three different answers and three different prices. Let’s use, as an example, a common loading dock with beams, pipes, conduits, and lights. One company may favor and recommend putting spikes on every surface. Another could suggest an audio system. And yet a third would hopefully propose the right solution for this scenario—mesh bird netting.

We have an adage in the bird control industry: “If it can be netted, it should be.” When properly installed using quality materials, mesh netting is the most effective tool to eliminate or prevent a pest bird problem in an area. In the loading dock example, netting would be taut and straight on a plane that is even with support beams, contoured as needed to ensure susceptible roosts are encased. Access to equipment can be built in with zippered panels or openable net clips.

Even if you find three companies that agree with netting, there are various gauges, sizes, and color selections to be made. Different suppliers even recommend different installation methodologies and hardware.

Getting good information about what to do and how to do it is also a challenge in this subset of the pest control industry. Bird control is a specialty trade that not many local service providers have experience or capability to perform on a large scale. Whereas manufacturers have strong knowledge of how their products work relative to a particular issue, they are often not in a position to offer the kind of site specific application details and associated pricing that’s needed.

Let’s look at it from the perspective of healthcare. There are manufacturers of products (Big Pharma) and their distributors (local pharmacies). The drug companies make pills, potions, and lotions to cure all sorts of ailments. But they don’t work with individual patients. Conversely, pharmacies know about the products and act as the delivery vehicle to patients for the manufacturers, but they don’t write prescriptions. Neither is the best place to get all the answers.

That makes things difficult for facility decision-makers. Even within a relatively straightforward solution such as netting in a series of beams, pipes, and equipment in a loading dock, material selection and installation methodology can vary widely such that you’ll either have a result that lasts for 10-15 years plus or one that you’ll be redoing within a few short years.

The best option to streamline the process, avoid wasteful spending, and ensure results is with the help of an outside independent consultant who acts as a doctor—the missing component in the healthcare example above. You should expect this person to act completely in your interests, with no incentive or motivation to recommend a particular solution beyond its applicability, availability, and your budget.

Note: Birdproof by Design™ is a program developed by my firm to assist architects and engineers in the creation of buildings that are not susceptible to pest bird problems through elimination of roosting and nesting areas.

Waldorf is an independent bird control expert at Bird Control Advisory. He has more than 15 years of experience as a design/build supply and install contractor specifically for preventing and solving bird control problems at large and small facilities throughout the United States. Waldorf currently works as a consultant to architects/engineers, government agencies, and facilities managers who need quality information in a timely manner about bird related issues.

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