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Services & Maintenance: Honing In On Pest Birds

Written by Services and Maintenance Contributor. Posted in Exteriors, Featured Post, In-Depth Articles, Magazine, Safety, Services & Maintenance, Topics

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Published on August 08, 2013 with 1 Comment

An IPM program can do more than keep birds away; it can also help make a facility a “no-fly” zone for other types of pests, like insects. (Photo: Orkin)

An IPM program can do more than keep birds away; it can also help make a facility a “no-fly” zone for other types of pests, like insects. (Photo: Orkin)

By Ron Harrison, Ph.D.
From the July 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Each year, pest birds cause tens of millions of dollars in damage to machinery, automobiles, roofs, and ventilation systems. Bird droppings are high in nitrogen content, which can be corrosive to metals and other building materials.

But those droppings are more than visually unappealing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this fecal material can contain disease organisms such as histoplasmosis, cryptococcus, and ectoparasites. These diseases can cause fever, chest pains, and coughing and, if left untreated, spread from the lungs to other organs, according to the CDC. They can also carry Salmonella and E. coli. Bird droppings containing these microbes can also lead to foodborne illness, some of which can be fatal.

The World Health Organization reports that birds are also the principal or amplifying hosts for viruses associated with eastern and western equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, West Nile virus, and even some influenza viruses.

Reducing Bird Collisions

By Christine Sheppard, Ph.D.

Ask most facility managers (fms) about birds, and they probably think about pigeons nesting on air conditioners or Canada geese fouling walkways. But most birds add value to outdoor spaces, contributing insect control and habitat regenerating seed dispersal. Unfortunately, the increasing use of glass in the built environment has been reflected in an enormous but little recognized toll—hundreds of millions of birds killed by collisions with glass every year.

People think they can see glass and wonder why birds can’t. In fact, people can’t see glass either (unless it’s dirty), and many are injured by running into glass doors. Birds try to fly toward reflected vegetation or sky, or to habitat seen through glass. Because they often fly into small spaces, even small areas of glass pose hazards.

The majority of collision victims are small songbirds; these stop to rest and feed during the day, when most collisions occur. If so many birds are killed by glass, why don’t we see more on the ground? Some fall into shrubs or grates; others are swept up with the trash. Most are taken by scavengers like rats, raccoons, cats, crows, and gulls.

For new facilities, many design strategies can be used to make them bird-friendly, without increasing budget. Retrofitting buildings is always an extra cost but fortunately, in most cases, only a portion of a building façade contributes to collisions. Birds are attracted by trees, shrubs, and other plantings, and that can draw them close to glass. In vegetated areas, birds often fly along walking paths—and those often end at glass doors. However, so many factors combine to cause collisions that they can be hard to predict.

This is where fms come in, because they know their facilities so well. Maintenance staff may mention areas where dead birds are found, or occupants may appeal to fms to “do something” about birds hitting windows.

At the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus last October, a plaza renovation including glass railings proved to be a problem; 40 birds were killed within a three hour period. The glass crossed a route that birds used to fly between two vegetated areas. Quick thinking fms Orin Hanson and Gregory Williams there responded by using painter’s tape to mark the glass. Within a few weeks, a more attractive, medium-term solution was installed while the university considers a permanent change such as sandblasting a pattern on the glass or replacing it with an opaque material.

Reflections on glass can be strong enough to make solutions installed inside invisible from the outside. Most effective solutions are installed on the outside surface of, or in front of, glass. External window film is a cost-effective solution. Colors and patterns can be chosen to harmonize with facility exteriors, and tests have identified the patterns that deter collisions while covering only 5% to 7% of the glass surface.

Photo: Christine Sheppard, ABC

Photo: Christine Sheppard, ABC

At the Center for Global Conservation in the Bronx, NY a gray, horizontal striped pattern has eliminated collision mortality (see photo). After a similar film was applied to a mirrored glass atrium in Markham, Ontario, occupants assumed the purpose was decorative and appreciated the change. They applauded when they discovered this addressed bird mortality.

External window screens or netting also eliminate collisions. And, external, motorized shades/screens can be deployed to reduce collisions (and control light and heat). Light emitted at night through windows or by outside fixtures attracts birds, so eliminating unnecessary lighting can save birds and money.



Sheppard is the bird collisions campaign manager at the American Bird Conservancy, a 501(c)(3), not-for profit organization to conserve native birds and their habitats. She helped create San Francisco’s Standards for Bird-safe Buildings and was part of the team that developed USGBC LEED Pilot Credit 55: Reducing Bird Mortality. Sheppard earned her B.A. and Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. 

The types of birds that can affect a facility and its surrounding property depend on the location and geography. Pest pigeons and sparrows breed in urban and suburban areas, transmit diseases, and can destroy structures with their droppings. House sparrows, while only a few inches tall, can outcompete native songbirds with high volumes of noise at all hours of the day.

Integrated Approach

Facility managers (fms) can manage pest birds through several prevention and control measures that fall under an Integrated Pest (bird) Management (IPM) program. IPM proactively controls pests through sanitation, facility maintenance, and exclusion tactics. Chemicals are used only as a last resort and then only in highly targeted treatments. IPM programs specifically target the type of pests threatening a facility.

The CDC now promotes IPM as a “science-based, commonsense approach for managing populations of disease vectors and public health pests.” Controlling a bird infestation is a three step process: inspection, implementation, and follow-up. An effective IPM plan involves comprehensive inspections and risk evaluations; a focus on prevention that keeps sustainability in mind; and ongoing monitoring, documentation, and communication.

Fms can work with pest management professionals to identify problem species and look for feeding, roosting, nesting, and loitering areas. Inspections should be completed at different times of the day, because bird activity changes.

If pest bird populations are present, the pest professional will work to modify the habitat. A few tactics like applying nets, gels, bird wire, and coils can make a facility unattractive to birds. Fms should keep in mind that these treatments need to be monitored regularly. Other options such as mechanical traps and chemical treatments available as well; these steps might be necessary to solve a particularly stubborn bird problem.

Repel And Maintain

Many pest birds, particularly pigeons, prefer to roost on flat surfaces and can often be found on roof ledges. Once they nest there, they are not easily discouraged by repellants or relocation techniques. With this in mind, the best way to stop birds from roosting on a roof is before they start. Facility management (FM) staff should regularly inspect roofs and rooftop HVAC units for any openings, which serve as nesting and roosting sites. Also, standing water should be swept or mopped after rain, because the water can serve as an impromptu birdbath.

Like many pests, nuisance birds will be attracted to a facility if they can find a free meal there. The smallest scraps can entice an avian invasion, so any community areas should be kept clean and clear of food debris. FM staff should make sure trash cans and recycling bins are lined, covered, and emptied on a regular basis. The same goes for sidings and docks, which should also be kept free of debris and other residues that attract birds. Paving these areas and cleaning them daily may be needed to help keep birds away.

Fms can also remind regular occupants as well as visitors to keep break areas clean and to never feed birds close to the facility. It’s also important to remember that birds loitering outside may find their way inside a facility. Once in, they may find it difficult to get out or they might find conditions adequate for them to set up house. In those cases, birds may need to be trapped or physically removed.

Clean Up Carefully

For dealing with bird droppings behind, fms may want to discuss a removal process with their service provider. If in-house staff handles the removal, at minimum the following steps should be taken before any extensive cleanup begins:

  • Workers, particularly those with weakened immune systems, should be informed of possible health risks.
  • Workers should wear protective clothing (e.g., disposable coveralls, boots, gloves, respirators).
  • Hands and other exposed skin should be washed when removal is finished.
  • Dust control measures, such as containing the area with plastic sheeting, should be implemented.
  • The area should be wet down to prevent inhalation and to reduce infection risk.


With a strong partnership, fms and their pest management service partners can apply the key measures that keep away pest birds. This can also help prevent other types of pests from infesting a facility.

Harrison is an entomologist and the director of technical services for Orkin.

About Services and Maintenance Contributor

Facility managers are often required to take a reactionary approach when it comes to problem solving. This column provides proactive, “how to” solutions to some of the ongoing issues. For additional Services & Maintenance articles, click this link.

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  1. What is the best solution to get rid of these birds? Can you elaborate it?

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