How To Get Rid Of Birds
11–13 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
Birds are one of nature’s delights. Their chirping melodies and vibrant colors add to the beauty of the landscape. But there are a few types of birds that can pose problems in a variety of settings due to their numbers and behaviors.
Know the Species
Most birds found in the U.S. are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty and Endangered Species Act. Though the vast majority of birds seen in the wild are a joy to behold, three species are classified as flying pests and receive no federal or state legal protection.
These three types of pest birds are the pigeon, the house sparrow, and the European starling. None are native to the U.S. and have no natural predators to reduce their populations. Each is deemed a nuisance pest due to potential transmission of illness, the corrosive damage from their droppings, and issues related to the location of their nests.
If you believe your home is receiving unwanted attention from a pest bird, it’s best to understand which species you’re seeing:
Common Species of Birds
Pigeons (also known as Rock Doves)
The largest of the pest birds, pigeons congregate in both urban and rural settings. In farming areas, they’re common to grain mills and manufacturing plants. This bird will eat any type of human food, and because of their dependence on humans, they’re unlikely to fly away from them in fear. Pigeons have advanced homing skills and will often return to their original nesting site when captured and released.
How To Identify:
Measure about 11 inches
Grayish bodies, with two black bars on each wing and red feet
Found throughout the U.S.
Known carriers of fleas, lice, and ticks
May transmit ailments such as food poisoning, salmonella, encephalitis, toxoplasmosis, and cryptococcosis
These sparrows have aggressive tendencies and are active throughout the year. Their sharp cheeping sound can keep homeowners awake. Though happiest feeding on grains, they can lay waste to gardens and contaminate livestock feed. House sparrows quickly reproduce and can become a prolific problem in rural areas. They often build nests in problematic spots like electrical areas and in poultry and hog farm facilities.
How To Identify:
About 5-6 ½ inches long
Light brown or reddish-brown with black streaks
Found throughout North America, except Alaska and northern Canada
Their nests may attract secondary pests, allowing for infestation
Range of flight and/or roosting is 1-2 miles
May carry and spread West Nile virus and more than 20 other illnesses
This pest never travels alone. In fact, flocks of starlings often number in the thousands and live in a variety of urban and rural settings. It’s common for them to flow through the sky and land on a lawn, effectively taking over the area.
How To Identify:
About 6-8 inches long
Dark color with faint speckles in winter; a dull coat with a yellow bill in winter
Found throughout U.S.; more than 200 million range from Alaska to Mexico
May reach flight speeds of over 40 mph
Droppings may transmit germs for encephalitis and histoplasmosis
1. Check Your Attic
Of all pest birds, pigeons in particular will live in attics on occasion because of the safety and dryness of the environment – and pigeons’ sense of calm around humans. They may also bring nesting materials into your home that can clog vents. Known to carry lice and bird mites, their droppings may contain pathogens for illnesses and attract pests such as cockroaches.
2. Plug Any Holes
Use caulk to seal openings where smaller or baby pest birds may enter your home. Sparrows can fit into ¾-inch gaps, and starlings through 1-inch openings.
3. Look for Roosting Areas
Consider adding obstacles such as spikes or sticky glues to ledges where birds gather. These countermeasures prevent birds for seeing your home as a nest or landing place of convenience.
Seasonal and General Behavior of Pest Birds
Pigeons are most often seen during daylight and will seek cover at night. They tend to flock while roosting, sunning, and feeding, and form loose colonies for nesting. Early winter is a time of courtship for pigeons, with nest building following in late winter and breeding in spring. In warm climates, however, breeding may occur throughout the year. Each pair of mates will average two eggs per season.
Immense flocks take shape most often during fall and winter, as starlings are highly sociable by nature. Their breeding season begins in spring and ends in early summer, with each pair typically producing five eggs per season. When they search for a home, they will seek out crevices or holes in buildings as nesting sites.
Note that two specific behaviors of European starlings mark them as pests. First, they can damage agricultural crops and berries. Second, they pose a threat at airports (especially on runways) where flocks may get sucked into airplane engines, causing significant and costly damage to transportation.
Like European starlings, they look to crevices on or inside buildings as sites to establish nests and usually assemble their nests between February and May. Breeding season is February through August, and each pair of mates averages five eggs.
House sparrows are known to act more aggressively toward other bird species that enter their territory. In fact, they’ve been seen to threaten or even attack over 70 kinds of birds. For gardeners or farmers, this bird acts as a pest by eating large quantities of seed.
No matter where we live, we all have to coexist with birds.
From the Northwest to the Southeast, hundreds of bird species live around us. While many are beautiful and entertaining to watch, others can quickly turn into a pest problem on your property.
Occasionally, birds destroy lawns and gardens in the process of gathering nesting materials. Their their waste can be a copious nuisance and hazard. Birds are also known to carry a variety of diseases, and it can be a safety issue to be in close proximity to a bird colony. Pigeons, for example, can carry encephalitis.
Since birds fly and nest in trees, it isn’t always easy to keep them away. But there are a variety of prevention and treatment methods you can use to stop a bird invasion in its tracks or make your property an inhospitable environment for them.
Remove Their Food Sources
Bird feeders are harmless when they aren’t attracting entire colonies. But if your property is getting more attention from birds than you’d like, a simple solution will be to remove or empty yours. Different species of birds are more prevalent during different seasons, so you probably won’t have to remove the feeder forever – just during the seasons when problem birds are more prevalent in your region.
Be sure to also use caution if you eat outside on a porch or patio. Birds love crumbs and other food particles, and once they associate your house with food, there’s a high chance that they’ll keep coming back.
For that reason, you should also take the time to ensure your outdoor trash cans close properly and aren’t leaving an easy opening for birds to sneak a snack out of them. When you take the trash out, make sure you aren’t spilling anything or overstuffing the can. Even though the cans are outside and you don’t have to smell them yourself, any odors will attract birds and a variety of other pests. Regularly rinse and disinfect your garbage containers.
If you use compost, you should also take similar precautions to make sure it isn’t emitting any smells. If you’re using a bin, inspect the lid and make sure it’s working properly, or you can use a tarp or other material to cover up a compost pile.
Remove Nesting Spots
We all know birds’ favorite nesting spot is in trees because of the cover it provides them and safety from predators on the ground. It isn’t realistic or good advice to try to rid your whole yard of trees. Instead, make sure you’re properly trimming them regularly and removing any low-hanging or excess branches. Pay special attention to any branches that are hanging close to your house or touching your roof. Deal with these immediately since they provide a bridge onto your roof for birds and other critters.
Different species of birds will also like to make a home inside different types of debris on the ground. If your yard has a lot of vegetation, thin out any thickets or piles of cut grass and wood. Not only will they provide cover for birds nesting on the ground, but it’s also like a free shop for birds to get the materials they need to build bird nests. Another good example of ground cover are dead trees and logs. Once they’re hollowed out, birds love to nest inside so that predators can’t see them.
Remove Water Sources
All life needs water, including birds and other nuisances. Your backyard can easily become an oasis, so it’s important to eliminate moisture as part of a pest prevention regimen.
Along with food odors, a cracked or open trash container can hold rainwater inside and serve as the perfect receptacle for birds to drink out of. This is another reason to double check your cans to make sure they’re always properly sealed and aren’t letting in any water or moisture.
Inspect your yard after a rainfall. Is there water pooling anywhere? Sometimes you may just have a dip in your yard or some small holes that tend to hold water after it rains. These are usually easy to fill in with a shovel. Other places where water might pool up is in toys, decorations or planters. Don’t leave any objects out in your yard that don’t need to be there. If you have decorations or planters, you can usually help them drain by drilling a few small holes in the bottom.
Cut Off Entryways
Many small bird species are known for seeking out tiny spaces in which to build their nests. Holes in the sides of your house or roof provide the ideal spot for a small bird nest since it offers cover and protection. Take steps to ensure that there aren’t any appealing spots for nests on your house:
- Walk around the entire perimeter of your house and search for any holes or openings.
- Fix holes temporarily with copper mesh, steel wool, or wood. You can also caulk over the holes or use expandable foam. If the holes are bigger, you may need to call a professional to fix them.
- If you’re comfortable with it, try to use a ladder to peek on top of your roof and inspect there. This is a more difficult task, but it’s very important since holes on the roof are more likely to go unnoticed.
- Trim and tree branches back if they’re touching or leading up to your roof. Squirrels and other critters will use these to get onto the roof, and they’ll likely cause damage that will then attract more birds.
- Seal up your chimneys, gutters and vents with mesh screens or another material that birds won’t be able to get through.
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If you are dealing with a pesky bird colony, don’t lose hope. Even if birds are hard to reach physically, there are many other tactics you can use to repel or scare them away. Note that you should always pair these treatments with continual prevention methods so that the birds are less likely to return.
Scare Them Away
Birds can be tricked for a limited amount of time in order to scare them away from your yard. They’re smart enough to know exactly what their predators look like, but still aren’t canny enough to tell the difference between a real and a fake (at least for a little while.)
- Plastic ducks
- Plastic owls
- Plastic snakes
- Plastic swans
- Plastic coyotes
Decoys aren’t always foolproof. A study at Linfield College in Oregon proved that plastic owls specifically worked as a deterrent for a short time period. Since owls are predators to many different bird species, birds tend to steer clear. But if you aren’t using other preventative measures and still have an abundance of food sources around, the birds will figure out that the owl is fake and return after about four days, even if it has a feature like a moving head.
You can improve the effectiveness of decoys by switching them out every four days and pairing the method with other treatments so that the birds eventually stay away for good.
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If visual decoys aren’t working, try pairing them with sonic deterrents. These are available at stores, or you can easily make one yourself if you have a pair of loudspeakers. They work by broadcasting sounds of predator bird calls, which tricks the birds around your house into thinking that they’re being hunted.
Since these are natural bird calls, you’ll only want to use this method if you’re sure about the species affecting you and who their predators are. Otherwise, you may instead attract even more birds that think they’re answering the call of their fellow species. As long as you keep the speakers to an appropriate volume, the sounds also shouldn’t bother your neighbors since they’re standard noises that birds make outside. It’s always best to check and make sure you aren’t making a nuisance for others while you’re trying to take care of yours.
Water deterrents aren’t a permanent solution, but they’re a good option if you’re trying to keep birds away from a specific spot like your porch or patio. If you invest in motion-sensor sprinklers and position them near the spots of your choice, they’ll turn on every time a bird approaches and successfully scare them away.
Birds aren’t smart enough to recognize that something will keep happening. Once they’re scared away they may still come back in a matter of hours.
Birds are always highly aware of their surroundings in order to both hunt and hide from predators. You can take advantage of this and distract them by using mirrors and other lights. The birds will notice the light but won’t know where it came from, so they’re likely to become confused and fly away. You can use the following objects:
- Metallic or shiny décor
- Hanging CDs
- Small mirrors
- Flashing strobe lights
Learn more about the different types of bird deterrents you can be using around your home.
You can’t exactly put up a regular fence to keep birds out of your yard, but there are some physical barriers you can use to keep them away from your garden, trees, or other food sources.
Bird netting can be made of simple nylon or plastic mesh. You’ll need to ensure that the holes in the mesh are small enough to keep out whichever species of bird you’re dealing with. To use netting, you’ll need to install it around your trees or other vegetation and make sure you’re also able to secure the top. This won’t always be a good solution if you have tall trees and plants in your yard.
Bird spikes can be made of plastic or metal, and they look exactly as they sound. They can be installed on almost any surface where birds hang out in order to prevent them from landing. Common areas include ledges, gutters, on the edge of your roof and any other elevated areas. You may need to attach the spikes with screws, but there are also some versions that attach with glue or ties so you don’t have to cause any damage.
The downside of the spikes is that they can be unsightly, but they usually come in different colors so you can try to match your house siding.
Electric strips work similar to bird spikes, but they use electricity to deter birds. When a bird lands on a strip, it provides a small jolt that won’t hurt them but is sure to send them flying away. These can be a better option if you’re worried about what bird spikes might look like on your house.
Several different types of liquid bird repellents exist on the market, usually in liquid or bird-off gel form. They work by emitting an odor that birds can’t stand, so they’ll usually stay away from wherever the repellent is applied. You can use these products on window ledges, gutters, eaves, and an easy-to-reach branches. Most of the products are also safe to use on your vegetation and plants, so you can spray or wipe them directly on in order to repel birds.
Find out which pigeon and bird repellents are the best on the market.
Bird traps are available in a variety of different forms, but the ones you can buy online are usually made out of wire mesh and resemble a cage. They usually work by using bird seed or other feed as bait inside and come with a perch. Once the bird flies down to the feed and sits on the perch, a flap on the top closes. Usually, these are available via animal control for you to easily borrow, or you can always contact a professional to come set it up themselves.
If you are using a trap, you’ll need to follow these steps:
- Read the instructions thoroughly before setting it up.
- Set it up near an area where you’ve seen birds frequently.
- Be sure to check the traps daily so you don’t leave a bird inside for a long period of time. They can hurt themselves if they try to get out or even die if they’re left outside in extreme weather.
- Once you do catch a bird, immediately call wildlife services or animal control. Since there are so many different species of birds, some might be protected or have different laws that apply to where they can be let loose.
- If you’re letting the bird loose yourself, prepare by dressing in long pants, long sleeves, and wear sturdy gloves. A bird’s claws or beak can cause serious damage if they get close to you.
Most bird prevention methods available are easy to do on your own and are simple habits to get into. Plugging entryways to your home and cleaning up outside also helps keep various other pests out of your property.
The available treatment methods can be more time-consuming and expensive, but they’ll also usually help you mitigate your problem quickly. But if you’ve used many different methods and don’t see your bird problem changing, it may be time to call an expert. Especially if you’re using a trap or more laborious method like installing bird nets, professionals can easily get the job done for you in a way where no one needs to be put in danger.
Remember that many species of birds can carry diseases, so an infestation can be a serious health concern for you and your family. Bird droppings can accumulate enough to create a serious problem. Don’t hesitate to call a bird professional if you feel your health and daily life has been altered by the birds on your property.
Remember that many species of birds can carry diseases, so an infestation can be a serious health concern for you and your family.
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