Services & Maintenance: Bird Management 101

By Eric Arnold, CWCP
Published in the July 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Shown here are coyote and grey fox effigies for Canada Goose control, along with several styles of pyrotechnics with launcher in foreground. (Photo: Eric Arnold, CWCP)

For facility managers (fms), birds can be the source of numerous problems that range from damage to building structures and sites to serious health and safety risks. Before dealing with a bird problem, it is imperative for an fm to understand what can and cannot be done to combat the issue.

The majority of birds that fms encounter are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA). The purpose of this act is to give protection to listed migratory bird species and any bird parts (including feathers, eggs, and nests) from pursuit, hunting, taking, capturing, killing, or sale. Species that are protected by the MBTA require special permits depending on the action to be taken in order to resolve conflicts. These permits are issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or, in certain cases by, state agencies.
Species commonly found around buildings—Rock Doves (pigeons), European Starlings, and English House sparrows—are not listed as protected species by the MBTA. It is advised that fms check state and local laws before dealing with these species.

Understanding The Problem

Problems can result from a single bird just as easily as from a large flock. Oftentimes, it is easier to resolve issues resulting from larger flocks, since the problem becomes more noticeable.

The most notable complaint with birds is their droppings. Aside from being unattractive, bird droppings can lead to several serious problems. Most droppings are very acidic and can create structural weaknesses on roofs, cornices, and I-beams. Canada Geese are capable of leaving over one pound of droppings daily while feeding and can quickly cover lawns and parking lots in excrement, creating slip and fall safety issues.

Lesser known safety issues include bird nests, which can cause fire hazards. Additionally, water damage to roofs and other parts of a structure can be triggered by nesting materials that interfere with drainage. Also, if birds perceive a threat to their nests from people, they will defend their nests, and individuals may sustain injury while trying to escape from an attack.

  • Is the business licensed? Is the business insured? Does the business belong to any national or state organizations?
  • How many years of experience does the business have dealing with bird conflicts? What special training has the business received for dealing with bird conflicts?
  • Does the business offer cleaning services for bird conflicts? What steps are involved with doing bird work? What types of materials are commonly used for bird work?
  • What is the average cost for: inspection, solutions, maintenance? Does the business take pictures during inspection? Does the business offer a written report of the inspection?
  • Who will be performing the actual work?
  • What is the health risk associated with my bird conflict? What is histoplasmosis? What parasites do birds carry?

Odors from decaying nest material, fecal matter, and dead birds pose another problem, in addition to disease and parasite issues. Wild birds can spread more than 60 diseases and parasites to people. Diseases commonly linked to birds include histoplasmosis, salmonella, candidiasis, toxoplasmosis, and encephalitis. Common parasites include lice, mites, fleas, and other ectoparasites.

When dealing with bird conflicts, it is imperative for fms to know what species is at issue. As previously noted, certain species such as woodpeckers and Canada Geese may require special permits.

Next, most products are species specific. Choosing an incorrect product may result in additional problems, even if it resolves the initial problem. Based on the method of control selected, contractors may require special licensing and training.

To address these issues and implement a successful solution, it is recommended that a bird management program be developed for each location. The first step in creating a program is determining what constitutes a bird problem. Some environments will have zero tolerance, such as hospitals that have pigeons roosting by ventilation shafts, while other locations such as storage buildings may be less restrictive. Regardless of the situation, it is always recommended that a facility adopt a no feeding policy.

Next, the amount and type of activity surrounding the bird problem, commonly referred to as “pressure,” needs to be assessed. Low pressure is said to exist in areas where birds are easily dispersed (such as benches and wires). Moderate pressure exists where birds are dispersed but do not go far—an outside food court, for example. High pressure exists in areas that birds constantly use and return to; these areas are generally covered and give protection from the elements and predators. Most nests are built in high pressure areas.

Once the necessary information has been collected, fms can select a control method. It should be noted that some methods of control will require special permits, equipment, and training based on the situation.

Monitoring. The first control method is monitoring. Here, the fm recognizes that a problem has been identified but that it does not meet the established criteria for bird removal or that special permits are required, and nothing can be done until this paperwork is complete.

Capture and removal. The second control method is removal. This allows for the problem birds, eggs, and nests to be physically removed by using special traps, shootings, or avicides. Based on species, special permits are required along with an understanding of state and local laws. Most birds controlled this way must be euthanized to prevent their return.

Harassment. The third control method is harassment. This behavior modification technique conditions birds to stay away from a specific area. No special permits are required, since birds, eggs, or nests are not handled. Techniques include propane canons, pyrotechnics, distress calls, visual scare devices, lasers, dogs, and effigies.

Pyrotechnics are products registered for use with wildlife pest control only by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and may not be legal based on local ordinances.

Lasers are handheld devices that emit a visible red or green light to frighten target birds. The distance and size of the laser beam is determined by the power source and weather conditions at the time of use.

Effigies are photographic images, cutouts, or animal mounts used to create a fear response in the target birds. Examples include dead turkey vultures hung in trees or coyote mounts used for goose control.

Deterrents. The fourth control method involves products that deter birds from using a specific area. Deterrents are the most common form of control and also the most species specific. Common deterrents for ledges and trusses include spikes, gel, wire, coil, and shock track. Others, used on ponds, rooftops, and lighting fixtures, include daddy long legs, wire grids, motion sprinklers, sound activated spiders, and fencing.

A newer style of deterrent involves using products made with 9,10-anthraquinone and methyl anthranilate. These are generally sprayed onto birds’ food sources to make them sick when ingested, or it is fogged into the problem area creating irritation and forcing birds to move. Certain products in this category may require a commercial applicator license and may not be registered in all states.

Proper product selection is required when using deterrents. For instance, spikes installed on ledges are excellent control for pigeons; however, smaller birds such as House sparrows can, and will, build their nests inside the spikes.

Exclusion. The fifth control method (and the only effective high pressure solution) is exclusion. Exclusion involves preventing bird access to the area through the use of netting, wire mesh, or construction.

It should be noted that in most conflict situations, multiple control methods need to be performed in order to achieve long-term results. Consulting with a professional wildlife control operator can be very helpful in choosing the best product.

To ensure installed devices are working properly, maintenance may be needed every few days to once a year. For instance, bird netting in a loading bay may only need maintenance once a year, while Mylar strips and scare balloons should be moved no later than once every 48 hours to prevent birds from becoming acclimated to their presence.

Problem birds can be a frustrating issue for fms. However, with proper planning and help from professionals when needed, it can become just another day at the office.

Arnold is the owner of Bats, Birds, & More, Inc., a wildlife control company in Medina County, OH. Currently president of the Ohio Wildlife Control Operators Association, Arnold is also president-elect of the NWCOA, which is organized exclusively as a mutual benefit, non-profit trade association to assist those providing commercial wildlife damage management and control activities.