Frequently Asked Questions - Birds Causing a Problem

A motion-activated sprinkler device works very well.  This and other nuisance wildlife contraptions and deterrents are available at garden stores, or on-line by searching on "nuisance wildlife products."

One deterrent that seems to work on flat roofs is to put up a series of parallel lines of wire cables or monofilament line (at least 50 lb test) across your roof -- 10 to 15 feet apart, about a foot above the roof.  A line of cinder blocks could serve as temporary attachments for the line on either side of the roof, or attaching a series of posts to the sides of your roof.  Gulls are very protective of nest sites (as you have found out), but if you can get them to move somewhere else they will most likely return to that new place in future years.  If you have tried deterrents to no avail, then you could apply to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (regional office) for a permit to remove nests and eggs.  This will also discourage re-nesting there, but you will not get a permit unless you have exhausted other deterrent methods.

Another thing you can try is a sound device designed to emit sonic or noises unpleasant to gulls. There are numerous companies that sell waterproof, pre-packaged systems that are ready to go.  An Internet search on "nuisance bird products" will pull up a variety of options.

House Sparrows and European Starlings are non-native species, introduced from Europe, that have adapted to nesting on homes and other buildings since the beginnings of the Agricultural Revolution more than 10,000 years ago.  They build their homes in gutters, vents, or other openings in buildings.  Sparrows can gain entrance to holes as small as 1 1/4 inch diameter, while the larger starlings need holes at least 1 5/8 inch diameter. 

The best way to stop these birds from nesting on your house is to block any and all possible nest holes with boards, bird netting, or any physical barrier that might be cosmetically and structurally appropriate.  Birds can nest in gutter downspouts if there is a horizontal section of pipe near the entrance at the top, so avoid this gutter design.  While native bird nests, eggs, and babies are protected by law and cannot be moved or destroyed, Starlings and House Sparrows are not protected and you may legally remove them from your home or building. 

For native birds such as House Finches (often nesting in hanging plants), Mourning Doves and American Robins (nesting on ledges), Carolina Wrens (nesting in buckets, shoes, or mailboxes), or Barn Swallows (nesting over doors or on porches) it is best to discourage them before they start nesting by eliminating or blocking access to potential sites.  If you want to encourage these birds to nest on your home, you can build ledges or provide nesting boxes to attract them.  Since these native birds are protected and beneficial, once they are nesting they should be left alone and given as much space as possible.  Their eggs are only in the nest for two weeks before they hatch, and then the young are only in the nest for two more weeks after that.  Be sure to remove the nest and clean the area with a strong disinfectant after the birds are gone. 

Pigeons are one of the most common birds in urban areas, where they are attracted to discarded human foods and find plenty of roosts and nesting sites on the flat rooftops and ledges of buildings, bridges, and overpasses.  Pigeon droppings are usually just a nuisance; but, if left to accumulate, could transmit diseases to humans or cause structural damage to buildings or bridges.

Physical barriers usually work to keep the pigeons from landing or nesting where they are unwanted.  Home or building owners can use netting, fishing line, or barriers to block access to a roost or nest site.  Also, creating a greater-than-45 degree inclined slope on ledges or other flat surfaces make it hard for pigeons to land.  Many safe and effective commercial products are also available including plastic or metal bird spikes.  Using sticky products is not recommended as these products can get on skin and feathers causing on-going problems for the bird.  If pigeons are roosting on a utility wire or other area where they can't be easily blocked, a weatherproof bird sound device that plays bird alarm or distress calls may chase them away.  More information on nuisance pigeon control is available from the USDA Wildlife Damage Management Library.

After seeing declines in Canada Goose populations through the early 1900s, state and federal wildlife agencies began raising them in captivity and released them across the United States in the 1960s.  These birds adopted a non-migratory lifestyle and enjoy the abundant food and protection from predators in our suburban golf courses, parks, and athletic fields.  They create a problem for the public with their droppings and may charge at people during the nesting season.

Nuisance geese that are feeding on grassy areas can be moved by spraying the grass with commercial goose repellent made from a non-toxic grape extract used as a natural food flavoring.  Geese that are found on a lawn, dock, or pond can be scared away by a sound device that plays goose alarm calls, or by visual deterrents like fake coyotes.  Wherever possible, eliminating lawns and planting cattails or other native vegetation along the edges of ponds is also effective at getting geese to move elsewhere.  Border collies are effective at chasing geese away, and goose-chasing dogs can be hired to patrol a park or golf course.  For more information on how to address geese problems, visit the Penn State Extension or Jack H. Berryman Institute goose information pages.

Crows are highly intelligent birds, and often hang out in family groups all year round.  In some areas, they may migrate regionally, and congregate in large winter roosts.  Crows can become a nuisance if they decide to roost in yards or on buildings, or if they descend on a food source like your garden or a bug-infested lawn.  As with all bird nuisance problems, the birds are only doing what comes natural to them for survival; and if they are causing a problem it is usually because we have created an opportunity for them.  If you can figure out what is attracting the birds, it may be possible to eliminate the attractant or make it impossible for them to take advantage of it.  It may turn out, however, that the birds are doing you a favor by drawing your attention to a lawn grub infestation or something else that you need to address. 

If frightening away crows is necessary, there are a variety of commercially available devices that emit predator or crow distress calls and other sounds that serve as alarms to crows and other birds.  This may work for weeks at a time, or may be needed every evening as they come in to roost.  For more information about crows and solving crow problems, visit the crow section of the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management or the Humane Society of the United States websites.

Bird poop (or guano) is usually more of a nuisance than an actual health risk, though there can be a risk of disease transmission, especially for those with weakened immune systems.  Clean up with soap and hot water whenever you have contact with bird droppings. In places where you are concerned about guano from nesting or roosting, you may be able to block access to those areas with fishing line, netting or a block of wood or Styrofoam material.  Discourage perching by installing visual deterrents like shiny pinwheels, mylar flash tape, or commercially-available bird balloons.  Plastic owls with "bobble" heads that move  with wind can work in many situations.  To clean up small messes caused by birds, use water from a hose; or for larger messes, follow the guidelines on the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management website--which include using a mask or other breathing protection, protective clothing, and bleach or detergent.  For more information on diseases spread by bird droppings, see various resource page at the Centers for Disease Control.

Mockingbirds are notorious for making nests in bushes or small trees near sidewalks, then dive-bombing pedestrians thinking they are in their territory and a threat to their nest. If this is happening for the first time, and a nest has already been made, you may have to avoid the area until the young have left the nest.

Eggs hatch in two weeks, and young leave the nest two more weeks after that. Mockingbirds don't usually re-use their nests, but may return the following year to the same shrub or tree. If you notice the bird return the following year, you can try to discourage it from nesting with wind chimes, hanging metal strips, or repeated squirting with a 'super-soaker' squirt gun. This can also help discourage a loud mockingbird from singing outside your window during the night.

Woodpeckers peck at homes for three reasons. First, the fast machine-gun pecking, referred to as "drumming" is the male woodpecker's attempt to make as loud a noise as possible to attract a mate and to announce to other male woodpeckers that this is his territory. Hollow branches are usually used, but a gutter or loose siding sometimes serves as a substitute. Tightening up loose parts of the house may solve that problem. Hanging flashy objects nearby can also scare the woodpeckers away.

The second reason for pecking on homes is the birds' search for insects. If you are seeing holes drilled or chipped away, it may mean you have insects living in your external boards that the woodpecker found. Often, carpenter bees will drill holes into wood and tunnel through, laying eggs that you don't even know are there. Woodpeckers open up the tunnels from the outside and eat the hatched larvae. Attaching an untreated board onto the outside of your house for the bees will provide habitat for valuable pollinator species, and you can replace it as often as needed! Scaring woodpeckers with hanging shiny objects or metallic strips can also discourage them from investigating for insects.

Finally, woodpeckers may find your wood or stucco siding an attractive and easily excavated site for a nest or roost hole.  If the woodpecker seems to be making a round hole big enough for it to enter, you will need to stop this by blocking access to the hole with bird netting, metal flashing, or some other barrier.  But since the bird has decided this is a good place for a nest or roost, it may be hard to get it to leave, in which case it may be easier to install a woodpecker nest box on the side of your house so that it uses the box instead of making holes in your home.  Remember to fill the nest box with wood shavings as they prefer to excavate their own homes.  Click here for a chart of design specifications for nesting and roosting boxes.  Depending on the size of the woodpecker doing the damage, use the box dimensions for a Northern Flicker (robin-sized woodpecker) or a Pileated Woodpecker (crow-sized).

This scenario is surprisingly common and is almost always perpetrated by male Northern Cardinals, American Robins, and Mockingbirds. The concentration of hormones in male birds increases dramatically during breeding season which can cause a ferocious defense of their territory. Certain species seem more prone to being "fooled" by their reflection in windows, thinking it is a rival in their territory.

The solution is to eliminate the reflective properties of glass by covering the window from the outside. Anything attached to the inside of the window may reduce reflectivity, but not eliminate it. You may have to cover the window for a period of time, perhaps a week or more. Attaching white paper to the entire outer surface of the window will allow for light to enter while eliminating reflection. Try stringing balloons, old CDs, or strips of shiny material to the outer window surface. If the bird is still persistent, you may have to attach fine netting across your windows to at least stop them from banging into the glass.