There’s nothing fiercer than a momma protecting her young, and this goes for birds as well as humans. And, while society’s view of animals – especially pets – has seen a remarkable shift in recent decades, the age-old conflict of unwelcome birds occupying man’s roof eaves, dryer ducts, and stove fan vents continues.
It’s no fun having to dislodge a nest of invasive English House Sparrows, let alone beautiful natives like Purple Martins, Chimney Swifts, Red-Headed Woodpeckers and Mourning Doves. The hatchlings shriek and the momma dive-bombs, and falling off a ladder becomes a distinct possibility.
Yet, homeowners have no choice but to dislodge these interlopers when damages occur. The acid in bird droppings eats away at roof tar. Nests are made with flammable materials. Those round, harmless-looking piles of twine and twig can block gutters and allow water to build up and cause a roof to collapse. When a home’s chimney or vents are blocked by sparrows, starlings, or other birds, the home’s occupants are at risk. Mites can migrate from the nest into the home, and gasses that can’t escape can build up indoors. There have even been reports of people nearly dying as a result of blocked vents.
When birds invade your rental property, it’s critical to stay on top of the problem – both for the tenant’s comfort and to protect your investment.
In fact, tenants should be told in advance that you want to know if nests appear in or on the structure. It’s a good idea to ask tenants in advance if they plan to use birdfeeders; if so, you will need to warn them that they will have to remove feeders if birds become a problem. If birds have already been a problem, you may prohibit bird-feeding with a clause in the lease.
Why do they pick my house?
Birds are opportunists. Why put effort into crafting a nice warm cavity for hatching eggs, when the perfect niches are already available in house gutters and eaves? Homes are magnets for insects that are drawn to light and shelter, and insects make up the bulk of many bird diets.
Many birds are creatures of habit and will return to the same nesting area year after year. Birds are also smart enough to make the most of a homeowner’s failure to immediately fix small cracks in siding, rotting soffit, and any other opening that can be used as a nesting spot. (Visits from woodpeckers may actually be a warning signal that your home has an insect infestation, as the bird will peck wooden siding to get at the bugs.)
The biggest factor in determining which bird will most likely to seek shelter in and around your rental home is its location. Pigeons are plentiful in the city and can be extremely difficult to deter, whereas, sparrows and starlings are most likely to congregate in suburban settings.
How do I get rid of them?
So, the birds have taken over and you must get rid of them; but, there doesn’t seem to be an easy and quick solution. For instance, it is illegal under federal and state laws to poison, shoot or otherwise destroy most wild birds. English Sparrows, rock pigeons and European Starlings are not protected by those laws, but many of us aren’t equipped with the tools (or fortitude) to kill birds, let alone dispose of the evidence.
As soon as you notice a bird problem – or your tenant brings it to your attention – walk the property and make notes on all the nesting evidence you see. Then, consult a professional, or set your own removal plan in motion. Tenants should not do the removal or cleanup.
Professional trap and removal services can humanely remove nests and birds, and can deter bird flocks. Fees vary depending on how much work is involved; that is, how many trips are required to rid a property of birds, and on whether the service includes repairing the damage caused by birds.
Sources on DIY bird-removal abound online and many sites are university-affiliated, so the advice comes from wildlife biologists. Sites sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension System provide education and offer phone numbers for those who want to talk over their bird problem. Many private pest control services also offer helpful, online FAQs on dealing with pesky birds.
Eradicating established nests typically requires waiting for eggs to hatch and the young to leave. Once they are gone, pull out the nest and close off the area they found, so that another bird family won’t move in. Then, be sure to remove droppings in and around the area.
The experts emphasize the importance of prevention. In other words, if you anticipate where bird problems could develop, then take precautionary steps, you will greatly reduce the potential for unwanted colonies on your property.
Keep ‘em out
For example, Purdue University entomologists, in their Animal Damage Management publication on pigeons, describe a barrier made of wire that can be laid on surfaces to prevent pigeons from roosting. The authors also state that: “Openings to lofts, steeples, vents, and eaves should be blocked with wood, metal, glass, masonry, or 3/4 inch rust-proofed wire mesh. Plastic or nylon netting can often be substituted for wire mesh, but may have to be replaced more frequently.”
The university offers a similar paper on preventing woodpeckers from turning your property into a bird hotel.
In its many tips on discouraging starlings, the Humane Society recommends sealing off popular nesting areas – stove, dryer and exhaust fan vents – with the correct materials: “Use hardware cloth, metal flashing, or commercial vent covers to seal opening, (the commercially available ones are probably the easiest to work with). Lighter material, such as plastic netting or window screening, rarely keeps determined starlings out. Any vent covering you use for starlings should be checked periodically to make sure the vent is working properly and is not impeded by a buildup of any material, such as lint from a dryer.”
Advice offered more than a decade ago, in a New York Times article, still rings true, as
the battle with nesting birds will likely endure for many years to come. Again, the focus is on thinking like a bird. Size up potential nesting spots, then seal them off with safe materials that won’t block vent flow.
It may take weeks or even months to deter birds; but, if they repeatedly fail to get a foothold on your eaves, in your gutters, or at your vents, they will eventually move on to the next property. When they do, it’s a good idea to continue to check (or ask tenants to check) for nests or damage, so that any newcomer birds can be quickly dealt with.