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red-winged blackbird sitting on branch
Birds are often seen as a sign of spring.  Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Birds, with their singing, bright colors, and flight ability, have long fascinated humans. At times, however, birds come in conflict with our interests. These situations range from nuisance (noise, droppings, etc.) to property damage and health risks. Most bird species are protected by federal and state regulations.

red-winged blackbird in corn field
These same birds can cause damage to crops. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

The three species that most frequently cause problems, rock pigeon, European starling, and house sparrow, are not protected. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation includes three birds of concern on their nuisance wildlife page:  Canada geese, gulls, and swans.

Thankfully, much can be done without special permits to prevent or rectify bird problems.

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Why Should I Worry About Birds?

Nuisance situations with birds vary widely and include noise near roosts, damage to siding or crops, accumulations of fecal droppings on lawns, beaches, sidewalks and other sites, and aggressive behavior by territorial birds.

Occasionally, interactions with birds can escalate to health risks (i.e. water pollution due to fecal matter; becoming distracted in a risky situation by a territorial bird). The health risks associated with birds are usually associated with the buildup of fecal matter containing pathogens such as histoplasmosis, salmonella, cryptococcosis, and toxoplasmosis.

over 12 geese on the shore of Cayuga Lake
Too many geese in one place can cause health risks for geese and humans. Photo: Paul Curtis, Cornell Univ. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Birds can also cause property damage such as corrosion of roofs due to fecal accumulations.

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How Do I Manage Birds in the Landscape?

The following descriptions briefly introduce the types of techniques available for managing issues with birds. Contact your state's wildlife agency before implementing any management technique that is lethal to birds or involves handling birds, nests, or eggs. New York regulations can be found here.

Habitat manipulation

corner of wood sided house with woodpecker holes
Woodpeckers won't distinguish between a tree and your house as long as there are insect larvae in the wood. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Changing the conditions that attract birds may alleviate problems. Examples include deciding what, where, and when to plant agricultural crops, thinning the tree canopies used by roosting birds, and even painting buildings in “non-woody” colors to reduce the attraction to woodpeckers. Unfortunately, this might include discouraging bird feeding in certain locations.

In the case of woodpeckers or other larvae-loving birds mistaking wooden siding for tree bark, it’s helpful to understand the life cycle of the (likely) carpenter bees attracting them. Carpenter bees can be attracted to unpainted wood, including overhangs, fascia, window frames and sills, decks and wood siding and even fences. Females and their offspring return to a ‘tunnel’ or create new burrows to lay eggs. Hatched larvae attract woodpeckers which peck holes in the wood looking for a meal. To reduce this:

  1. paint or stain wood
  2. block old holes with small pieces of dowel or wood-fill in the bee’s off-season—very late fall or very early spring.
  3. consult a pest management professional.
  4. See Cornell Lab of Ornithology information for additional information on preventing damage to house siding by woodpeckers

Exclusion

Netting and exclusion spikes under bay roof
Netting and spikes can prevent birds from landing on beams and pipes. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

When applicable, excluding birds from specific problem sites is usually the best approach. A whole industry has developed around the development of tools and techniques for bird exclusion (keeping birds out). Available options include netting, spikes, post-and-wire systems, electrified systems, and grid or parallel wires. These ‘tools’ help keep birds off your roof, eaves, window sills and often are used to keep birds from outdoor dining.

For illustrations of various exclusion options, we offer more detail and illustrations in our document Beasts Begone.

Birds getting at your berries? The only real success stories often include the use of fine bird-netting placed over the plant before birds ripen. Also consider fear-provoking stimuli (below).

bird netting over blueberry bushes
Bird netting can exclude birds from berries in your garden. Photo: NYSIPM. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Fear-provoking stimuli

As with exclusion, a wide range of products and techniques are available that seek to physically scare birds away from a site. Examples include simple devices such as balloons with large “predator eyes,” to more complex approaches using techniques such as heli-kites, pyrotechnics, or lasers. Another approach is to use trained animals (dogs, falcons) to harass birds. This has worked well with geese but ...

Airdance on school athletic field
Airdancers have been shown to be effective for scaring birds away from areas including berry fields and sports fields. Photo: Suzanne Wheatcraft. Click photo to see enlarged version.

Habituation is a persistent issue with fear-provoking stimuli. Habituation occurs when birds no longer fear a technique that initially scared them, and happens because fear stimuli do no harm to the bird. Habituation cannot be eliminated, but may be delayed by incorporating movement within the technique and not leaving a harassment device at the same location over a lengthy period. Reinforcing the technique may also help. For example, occasionally harassing nuisance geese with a trained dog may increase the effectiveness of a coyote model when the dog is not present.

Chemical repellents

Commercially available  repellents include polybutene products applied to locations such as building ledges, providing a long-lasting sticky surface meant to dissuade bird roosting. Taste repellent products (generally incorporating methyl anthranilate or anthraquinone) are applied to grass (for geese) or as an aerosol (fog) in roosts. Depending on your state and location site, application of chemical repellents may need to be done by a certified pesticide applicator.

Trapping

Trapping is generally the best approach if lethal control is desired, and is best done by a hired wildlife control operator or pest management professional with correct equipment. The impact of moving wild animals around (translocation) is usually undesirable biologically and legally. Trapping techniques range from devices meant to capture one bird at a time to organized drives capturing a whole flock. Captured birds should then be humanely euthanized.

Reproductive inhibition

In extreme cases, nuisance geese may be locally reduced by piercing or oiling eggs in the nests. This will require an annual, but easily attainable, federal permit.

Ovocontrol® is a product registered for use on pigeons, starlings, and blackbirds. Consult with your state’s wildlife and pesticide agencies on regulations.

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