Services & Maintenance: Solutions For Pest Birds

By Cameron Riddell
Published in the July 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

facility management pest bird control exteriors safety

Birds cause problems for facility managers (fms) when they perch on ledges and sills and dive bomb entryways. They roost in open air spaces and deface building contents while rendering working areas unhealthy and unpleasant. They move in warehouses and soil machinery and inventory. They congregate on rooftops and in HVAC systems and leave messes that reduce property values.

If fms are seeking “if, then” type guidelines to combat bird infiltration, below are three common mess problems that comprise about 90% of bird issues in facilities. These guidelines examine the context of each scenario (i.e., what product(s) the fm and/or a professional installer should choose and why that solution is deemed best based on time, and money and efficacy considerations.

Open Air Building: Total Exclusion Needed

This type of bird problem occurs in settings with open beam ceilings typical of airplane hangars, food storage facilities, warehouses, loading docks, and other storage areas. This scenario also presents itself around HVAC units on a roof (see sidebar below for more on this topic), an open courtyard, and even the entire face of a building.

In these cases, an ideal remedy to keep pest birds away may be a high density knotted, polyethylene twine (which can be five times the strength of plastic molded net) in an appropriate mesh size. Fms may want to consider black or other dark colored netting, because those are usually the least visible (even against light surfaces), it does not absorb light, and is far more resistant to UV damage than lighter colors.

Special considerations here are expanse and longevity. This physical exclusion deterrent method can last upwards of a decade. And areas calling for total exclusion measures are typically large, hard to control completely, and important to get right. Because of the substantial time and labor involved, netting provides a long lasting, low maintenance solution.

In terms of cost, while the majority of the investment in a netting solution is the labor, it’s still important to choose the most cost-efficient product option. This will reduce the cost of initial and subsequent labor and maintenance man-hours, and it also will amortize the product cost over more years.

Facilities where netting has been used as a bird deterrent include a maintenance yard, an office building, and a pool facility with a retractable roof.

In California, the City of Newport Beach maintenance yard, which houses service vehicles, was prime real estate for birds. Prior to the net installation, the city was dealing with employee complaints, decreased morale, persistent damage to vehicles, and an unhealthy work environment.

Another problem site was an office building in Dallas, TX, which was facing a dire bird situation. The owner was forced to spend triple his usual budget on window cleaning until the birds were ousted after netting was installed. The installer here needed the leverage of a “one-two punch” and also included a strategically placed product that would shock birds as they attempted to land on the building surface.

In New Jersey, a facility with an Olympic size swimming pool under a retractable roof was an easy spot for birds to “drop in” and “drop on.” This posed a slip and fall hazard, required an extra budget for cleaning, and caused general unpleasantness until netting was installed.

Another instance was a California hospital parking garage, which was hosting starlings on overhead pipes and in the insulation until they were routed out by a net installation. The hospital’s fm first tried to deflect pest birds by installing a plastic owl. But fake predators are not a long-term solution, since it doesn’t take birds long to realize the “predator” is harmless.

And a new amphitheater in Michigan attracted birds to the beams above the stage, creating an unsightly and unsanitary mess below. A sliding curtainlike netting installation was effective in keeping out these pests.

Dealing With Long, Linear Areas

Other areas that birds find attractive are long, linear spaces on which they can rest. These include building features such as parapet caps, roof peaks, decorative ledges, window sills, pipes, structural members (e.g., a tower, signage), large skylights, sprinkler pipes, balcony railings, and any flat surface.

One remedy for these scenarios is to install low profile spikes—often made of a clear polycarbonate base and thin stainless steel rods—which are nearly invisible even from a short distance. This physical barrier prevents birds from landing. Furthermore, the birds learn from experience, and spikes act as a visual reminder that the area is otherwise occupied.

Two special considerations fms must think about with long, linear areas are access and aesthetics. In terms of access, employees and/or contractors who will need to repair, paint, or otherwise work in the area should be taken into account. When aesthetics are an especially important issue, spikes can offer a low-profile solution that does not attract attention.

In terms of cost, spikes only need to be applied to the specific area threatened (e.g., a single sign, a few skylights). Costs can be further controlled by carefully surveying the situation to determine exactly where treatment is needed; for instance, birds might only roost on the north side of a building (due to its sun exposure, its vantage point, or its protection).

Examples: Spikes are effective for a variety of settings. A series of neighboring high-end retail storefronts in the Southwest was besieged by birds, which was bad for business traffic and employee morale, until spikes were installed. In the Midwest, a city transit authority maintenance crew had the unenviable responsibility of chasing and cleaning up after pigeons, and productivity suffered. The spike solution preserved the city’s infrastructure as well as rider and worker sanity. Meanwhile, an East Coast middle school with an ocean view experienced sea gulls competing for ledge roosting space and students’ lunches until spikes discouraged the pests from the area.

Long, Linear Areas With Special Circumstances

There are other deterrent options for areas with specific demands, such as combating especially small birds, addressing deep ledges, or preserving facility aesthetics. One choice is a flexible electric shock track—a low profile ledge deterrent system that uses a low-amperage (but high voltage) electrical pulse to deter pest birds. This is a painful but non-harmful pulse that shocks the birds’ feet when they try to stand on it, delivering the message not to return. This solution is nearly invisible, is low maintenance, and can be controlled from a master location.

facility management pest bird control exteriors safetyConsiderations here, in addition to access and aesthetics, include size of birds (while smaller birds can roost within spikes, a shock track is not so hospitable). Technical expertise should also be weighed to determine whether or not in-house staff should install it. Also, for deep ledges, shock products only need to be installed on edges in order to protect, as opposed to spikes where multiple rows would need to be installed.

Examples: A bird deterrent that works with the shock approach is flexible enough to work in numerous situations. For instance, a cell tower in Allentown, PA with a bird problem was the subject of angry letters to the local newspaper. The situation was such that an employer impacted by the bird mess would pay for employee car washes. This service was no longer necessary after a shock product was installed on the tower.

Two high end residential buildings in South Florida with offensive bird problems were in danger of becoming devalued properties until the strategic application of a shock product on balcony ledges provided a solution.

In Idaho, the beams, parapet caps, and sign letters at a bank were serving as a home for loafing pigeons from the moment construction on the building began. A shock product solved this issue. The fm at the bank originally chose spikes despite caution from the installer that, based on the bird species, they would likely fail. When they did fail, it prolonged the problem for months until a shock track was installed.

Lethal Methods?

Many fms may have thought about using lethal methods to rid their properties of pest birds. But even if it weren’t for the negative image a facility might create for itself in the community, lethal methods would almost certainly not address the bird infestation problem. This is because killing birds already in residence just creates an opportunity for new ones to move in. A more effective and lasting solution is to convince current and potential interlopers that the site in question is no longer an option.

Take The Time To Evaluate

Most fms are, through a combination of education and experience, quite capable of handling even the oddest of situations without breaking a sweat. Some will choose to handle bird deterrent installations in-house, and others will select a service partner.

Fms can benefit greatly from bringing in a contractor and should consider this comment from Ray Hageman, of Accurate Quality Services in Krum, TX, who worked on the Dallas, TX office building referenced earlier: “I’ve done this for long enough that I was able to cut right to the correct solution and not waste time or money with trials of something that may or may not work. I know where I have to treat, and more importantly, where not to treat.”

This can serve as a reminder that even a job planned to be in-house can benefit from outside advice, and the correct professional installation could save an fm money, man-hours, and headaches.

Riddell is president of Carson, CA-based Bird Barrier America, Inc., an inventor and manufacturer of bird repellent products. He can be reached at