Bird droppings can destroy almost any building material, including wood, stone, marble, steel, and iron. The accumulated droppings can also damage roofs, clog gutters, discolor paint, corrode I-beams, ruin cloth awnings, and short out electrical equipment.
An important consideration in the building process should involve how to prevent birds from roosting on the structure. Installing bird deterrents at the outset of a project (rather than retrofitting) saves time and money, and eliminates the dangers of bird-borne diseases, material degradation and the unsightly mess of bird droppings. The time and effort required to remove bird waste, along with the dangers associated with handling it, makes front-end installation preferable.
Research has found more than 60 transmittable bird-borne diseases and dangerous parasitic organisms that can be fatal to some people and cause others to fall ill. When dried-out bird droppings are disturbed, a cloud of airborne dust carries micro-organisms into the lungs, causing inhalation diseases, such as histoplasmosis. Eating or drinking foods that have come into contact with bird-related bacteria can cause ingestion diseases, such as toxoplasmosis and query fever.
One of the most common bird-roosting deterrents—bird-control strips, commonly referred to as “porcupine wire” or “bird spikes”—is relatively inexpensive and easy to install, and eliminates the ugly mess and deterioration that roosting birds can bring. This simple, effective bird-control device date back to 1950, when newly invented porcupine-wire strips were installed on the structures of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farm near Gettysburg, PA. According to the farm’s maintenance supervisor, the original installation is still in place and hasn’t required maintenance in the 50-plus years that have passed since the initial installation.
Aesthetics is another benefit of porcupine wire strips. The thin, stainless-steel wires are invisible at the distances from which structures are usually viewed. The patina of weathering quickly makes installations unobtrusive, even up close. This feature has made porcupine wire the system of choice for many well-known landmarks and historical restorations. Some manufacturers of porcupine wire offer custom color coat over the stainless-steel spikes, ensuring that they become part of the architectural design.
Some bird strips on the market only keep large birds away and are only for light infestation problems. Many porcupine-wire products have large gaps between the wires, allowing small birds to sit or nest in between them. To avoid this situation, it’s very important to choose a product that best fits your particular application. The points must be strategically configured close together, pointing in all directions. Some deterrents come in different sizes to accommodate different surface depths; you may have to run multiple rows to cover large surfaces. It’s critical to protect the entire surface area and follow the manufacturer’s directions and specifications very carefully.
The JFK Airport AirTrain station Queens, NY (above), is well protected against birds. Bird spikes have been installed on radiant heaters where birds might roost; architectural bird netting is used on the underside of the AirTrain and pedestrian canopies. Netting is nearly invisible from normal viewing distances.
Identify the problem Before purchasing a bird-control system, identify the types and number of birds causing the problem. Make note of the areas where birds are landing and roosting. If the birds are not present at the time of inspection, look for nests and droppings on the building, sidewalks, awnings, signs, etc. Look for nearby water and/or food sources; if possible, eliminate them.
Research available bird-control products There are many different products on the market that claim to be effective bird barriers, but you should spend time researching the facts. First, look for a reputable company with a proven track record. Next, call the company, explain your problem, and ask for advice. A reliable company will offer free technical support, including drawings and installation plans for your particular job. Some jobs may require more than one product to effectively repel birds.
Don’t buy a product based on price alone: There are many factors to consider, such as maintenance costs, the product’s lifespan, and installation costs. Some of the non-lethal products available today:
Bird Netting Netting is a good choice for access control. If you have an open warehouse, a building, or an overhang where birds get up into the rafters and beams, bird netting is an effective, economical choice. Netting should be strong and lightweight, with 0.75-inch square openings or smaller. Larger openings may not prevent smaller birds (like sparrows) from getting through. Make sure the netting is a dark color and ultraviolet stabilized to reduce deterioration from exposure to the elements. There are different ways of installing bird netting; some may be very simple while others may require an experienced contractor. Bird netting can be used for other applications, like netting off decorative columns and ledges, but doing so may hamper aesthetics – the netting can be highly visible.
Bird Spike This stainless-steel strip and wire barrier system prevents pest birds and animals from landing, roosting, nesting, or climbing on architectural surfaces. Proper placement of the strips is essential so that birds cannot roost in between them.
Pin and Wire Pin and wire systems have been used for many years with varying degrees of success. As another form of mechanical barrier, pin and wire systems work on the theory that birds will not land where tight strands of wire cover the surface. This type of system can be very labor intensive. Pin and wire barriers generally blend in well, but should only be used for repelling large birds in very light-pressure areas. In heavy-infestation situations, birds can roost and build nests in the wires. These systems work best when covering very narrow surfaces, such as railings, along balconies, and where there is moderate human activity. Some systems can now transmit a low-voltage current through the wires to help repel bird. While effective, this type of system can be more expensive and maintenance intensive.
Scare away Devises Of the various scare-away devices available, balloons seem to work better because they move around with the wind. You may find it helpful to frequently change balloon position and color to help prevent birds from getting used to them.
Plan the installation After you have chosen the most effective product or combination of products, you must decide if you want to install it yourself or have a qualified contractor do the job. Either way, make sure that all areas have been carefully measured so you order the correct amount of materials. Before installing any system, clean the entire area thoroughly and remove dirt, nests, and bird droppings. Most importantly, follow all of the manufacturer’s directions and recommendations. This way, you won’t have the expense of doing the job again. Picking the right product, following directions and a little common sense are all it takes to do the job successfully.
Bird Damage to Historic Buildings in NYC
The damage that bird droppings cause to historic buildings can be extensive. Apart from the obvious unsightliness, the main problem is acids released from their excrement. These can cause irreversible damage to building surfaces resulting in the scarring of building fabric, damaging appearance and, potentially, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. Studies have shown that the corrosive effects can continue for a long time after the stone has been contaminated, even if the fouling is removed.
Pigeons are also known to pose a significant health risk to the public. Pigeons are known to have over 60 different diseases, though only seven of these diseases can be transmitted to humans. Research has shown that aerosol transmission accounted for 99.4 per cent of incidences of disease transmission between pigeons and humans. The most commonly transmitted pathogens are Chlamydophila psittati and Cryptococcus neoformans. Pigeon droppings are known to transmit histoplasmosis, a disease which primarily affects the lungs. Histoplasmosis is caused by Histoplasma capsulatum, a fungus which grows in soil and material contaminated with bat or bird droppings.
About 99 per cent of the bird-control problems on buildings arise from the activities of just two species: feral pigeons (Columbia livia) and sea gulls (Larus argentatus). These birds fall into the general category of ‘pest bird’ species.
Buildings constructed of limestone or calciferous sandstone are most vulnerable to the effects of acids released from bird excrement. Its acidic nature is largely the product of the organisms that live on and in the excrement. Fungi which live on pigeon excrement are the actual cause of stonework corrosion rather than the excrement itself. The mycelium (similar to roots) of the fungi enters the stone, transporting the naturally-produced acids, which are strong enough to dissolve stone (especially calciferous stone) to form soluble salts. This process increases the porosity of the stone’s structure, allowing water to penetrate more readily. During winter, if the water in the stone interstices freezes, the expansion of ice crystals can weaken the stone and cause spalling. In addition, the soluble salts themselves cause secondary problems as they are dissolved and absorbed by the masonry, re-crystallizing at the point of evaporation. This can appear visually as efflorescence, a bloom of salts on the surface of the stone. Where crystallization occurs just below the surface, the growth of the crystals exerts pressure on the pores of the masonry causing the fabric to crumble.
The way to reduce the threat of building damage is to identify the problem bird and the main problem areas, treat and clean any fouling that may be in place, and then install deterrents that will prevent the pest bird from fouling the same place again.
There are a number of high-profile locations that have been affected by pigeon fouling. In New York City, damage caused by pigeon droppings and monuments is well documented and there have been a number of reports and scientific papers on the problem. Reports suggest that there is a definite health risk in there being such a large population of pigeons concentrated in this location, and the damage to paving and statuary is considerable both in terms of the problem it causes and in the cost of its removal. The Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission calculated that the annual cost for cleaning statuary is estimated in the millions and the annual cost for cleaning paving is estimated to be $300,000 as well. It is found that proofing of buildings by netting or spikes is the best way to protect buildings from bird damage.
However, proofing carried out in isolation has not solved the pigeon problem in New York City; it has simply moved it on to other buildings and cities. Pigeons in this area exhibit what is known as an ideal free distribution (This is an ecological term that describes the way in which animals distribute themselves between several patches of resources. The theory states that individual animals will aggregate in various patches proportionately to the amount of resources available in each patch. Pigeons will travel around New York City and the surrounding area searching for resources: particularly feeding, nesting and roosting sites. It is believed that it is likely that resource such as nesting or perching sites available to feral pigeons elsewhere in City parks are broadly similar to those in the other areas, and that the only major difference is the availability of a super-abundant and reliable source of food. Therefore, food availability is the main limiting factor of feral pigeon populations in New York City. Culling and providing nests so that eggs can be collected and destroyed have been proposed for controlling pigeon populations but these are controversial and more importantly not effective or appropriate in every location.
Since it is clear that feral pigeon populations in New York City are almost entirely controlled by food availability, if pigeons near central park were culled or removed, the niche left vacant by the culled pigeons would be immediately filled by other pigeons from the surrounding areas. These forms of control would not achieve the desired results. However, a combination of removing superfluous food and proofing the buildings would both reduce the population to an acceptable level and reduce damage to the buildings.
In some unique cases culling may work when there is a small population to be removed, but in terms of the protection of buildings, culling or nest removal is not an entirely effective measure.
Bird deterrents fall into a number of groups: anti-perching devices and anti-entry devices. Anti-perching devices are the most commonly used method for protecting building surfaces from damage caused by the acidic components of bird fouling. These devices work by preventing birds from landing and roosting, and therefore from fouling certain areas. There are three main forms; anti-perching wire (sprung wire), anti-perching spikes and anti-perching gel.
Anti-perching wire (sprung wire) is a commonly used device which is proven to be most effective in many situations. The wire consists of nylon-coated stainless steel with a diameter that is too small for either pigeons or gulls to grip. The wires are attached by tension springs to either horizontal or vertical posts. The springs cause the wire to ‘bounce’ when birds try to land on them, therefore disorienting the bird and subsequently putting them off landing in that particular site. The wires are relatively low in visibility and are therefore more suitable for protecting historic buildings given their ability to conform to the contours of a building. As well as being very discreet, all the components of the system are stainless steel and therefore do not create rust marks on the building surface, and the plugs into which the posts are fitted ensure that rainwater does not penetrate and later damage the masonry.
Anti-perching Bird Spikes are designed to prevent birds from landing in certain areas. Bird Spikes are most commonly used on surfaces such as the leading edges of sills and ledges. Birds tend to sit on the leading edges of these surfaces in order to look for food and at the same time foul the face of the building. However, if they are unable to do so they will only perch in this area for a number of seconds, realize they cannot get a comfortable view for seeking out food and therefore fly away. Spikes are glued to the surface using a silicone-based adhesive. The glue does not cause damage to the building surface, which it does not penetrate, and it can be completely removed at a later date if required, leaving the surface completely intact.
Exclusion netting is best suited for keeping pest birds out of courtyard areas, and is also deployed as a screening device for features such as airplane hangars, loading docks, stadiums, pedestrian canopies, covered walkways, under bridges, parking garages, eves, balconies, windows, pipe work air conditioning units and more.
The Bird Netting lifespan may be expected to be ten years or more, depending on the degree of exposure, as it is treated with a UV-resistant coating. In a sheltered location, some nets have lasted as long as 20 years. Mesh sizes vary with 19mm-mesh nets for sparrows, 28mm-mesh nets for starlings, 50mm-mesh nets for pigeons and 75mm-mesh nets for gulls.
Once the netting has been installed it is relatively inconspicuous and does not noticeably reduce the light reaching any windows behind it. It must be maintained regularly to keep it clear of windblown leaves and rubbish, which can create a real eyesore. An annual inspection is usually sufficient. The netting excludes the birds from the premises’ voids and they have to look elsewhere for nesting and roosting opportunities.
Sea gulls do not damage heritage buildings in the same way as pigeons. They are not vectors of disease, although they have been associated with Salmonella transmission. Generally in the urban environment they do not live in large, closely grouped flocks, although they do flock together to feed on roof tops and playing fields. Gulls make a considerable amount of noise, which can be a nuisance. Gulls leave some fouling on the buildings where they nest and in the surrounding areas. This fouling can stain and damage masonry. Because they are territorial when nesting, gulls tend not to congregate close together in such large numbers or with such regularity to either nest or roost. Gull droppings don’t accumulate in quite the same way as with feral pigeons. Nesting gulls can be particularly aggressive and will drive off anything, including people, they perceive to be a risk to their nest. Naturally, gulls nest in colonies on the coast where they compete aggressively for space. In the urban environment they generally nest in single pairs, spread over a wider area. Nest defense is carried out by males. Gulls form lifelong pair bonds and tend to return to the same nest year after year, and site fidelity increases with age. This means that problems left unresolved become worse each year. Occasionally in urban areas, colonies of gulls have become a major nuisance where expanding nesting groups have spread over several rooftops, causing fouling, and the additional problems of noise and mobbing people.
A particular issue for residents is the gulls habit of calling to affirm territory and the location of other gulls. This can take place from the early hours to late at night disturbing anyone in the vicinity.
Pigeon and gull control may be undertaken for many reasons, including: prevention of the spread of disease; preserving public health; safety; or, most frequently, for the protection of buildings, building surfaces and the prevention of nuisance. When dealing with historic buildings, the installation of proofing devices is better left to professional companies who can provide a high-quality product that both protects the building from bird damage and does not damage the building during the installation process or subsequent operation. While there are products, such as spikes, that can be bought and applied on a DIY basis, these are not normally approved for placement on the facades of listed buildings.
How To: Controlling Pigeons, Sparrows and Starlings
Feral pigeons foul buildings, creating unwanted “stained glass” windows and “decorated” architecture. All sorts of pests may migrate from their nests into buildings. Originally descended from the wild Rock Dove, a cliff-face dweller, these birds find the next best thing is a city block, a bit of Victorian Gothic architecture or a railway arch.
In the absence of natural predators, birds which fall sick survive to infect healthy ones with ornithosis and other diseases, some of which can be transmissible to man. Their accumulated droppings are also sources of disease.
Birds such as Pigeons carry a variety of diseases such as Ornithosis, Listeria and E-coli that can be transmitted to man not only from the droppings but also the birds themselves. When dry, pigeon droppings can become airborne in small particles, which can lead to respiratory complaints such as psittacosis.
Pigeon droppings are acidic and can corrode/erode metals, stonework and brickwork. Nesting materials birds use can block chimneys, flues and guttering, causing possible issues with carbon monoxide and damage to buildings as water overflows from blocked gutters.
Buildings covered in droppings looks unpleasant can smell, and projects a poor image of business, potentially ruining an organization’s reputation. If customers spot evidence of a heavy Pigeon infestation on premises, they may not want to do business with you.
Closely linked to Pigeon activity such as nesting are parasites such as mites, ticks, fleas and beetles. So if you have a current or past problem with birds and have done nothing, you may find you’ll suffer from a parasite infestation too.
How to Prevent and Get Rid of Birds
Pigeon prevention, proofing and control are a highly specialized skill, requiring specialist equipment and tools. Control of Pigeons through population reduction techniques is generally both less desirable and less effective than removing their food sources and blocking off sites where they perch or roost. The latter technique, known as proofing is now used extensively.
For proofing, professional Landmark Bird Control will use methods such as barriers, spikes, nets and wire to great effect. More recently active systems like shock strips, audible scares have been used to create negative associations in birds wishing to land or roost on buildings. All of these methods of proofing have their merits, and some can offer a stronger and more lasting deterrent, but as with any method of control, they may become less effective over an extended period. For a heavy Pigeon infestation, Landmark Bird Control your professional contractor may have to employ methods of control such as trapping or flying of predatory birds.
Rarely a problem in domestic situations, but frequently an issue in commercial premises such as Box stores, Stadiums and warehouses. Sparrows can enter buildings through tiny gaps and, once in, are very difficult to remove.
Proofing with nets and blocking of entry holes are usually the preferred options used by professionals.
Although they aren’t native to this country, our permanently resident starling population is swelled every autumn by migrants arriving from the Continent. Starlings may roost in their thousands on ledges on buildings and in trees in city centers. Their droppings deface and erode stonework and make pavements slippery. In domestic lofts, their nesting activities can build large piles of twigs, leaves and associated fouling. Insect and mite pests can find their way from this into the house.
Proofing with nets on buildings and mesh on entry points to houses are the most effective methods. Scaring devices used by trained personnel can be effective in some situations. This work should be carried out by a professional.
Having problems with Feral Pigeons, Sparrows or Starlings?
Use a trained professional from Landmark Bird Control.