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Educational Resource Guide #269

Social Bird F.A.Q.'s
by Barb Ogg, Ph.D., Extension Educator and Soni Cochran, Extension Associate

Q. In the afternoon, hundreds of noisy black birds (starlings) come into my yard and sit in the tree and roost overnight. How do I keep them away?

A. Starlings are extremely social and have the unpleasant habit of gathering and roosting in large numbers. In fall, starlings often move into urban settings and roost overnight in trees, on ledges, near lighted signs and other places that provide shelter and warmth. Beneath the roost, droppings can accumulate. 

During the day, these birds fly to areas where grain is readily available like elevators, feed yards and crop fields. They return to roost in urban areas in the late afternoon. 

Controlling starlings in their urban roosts is most effective when done on a neighborhood or community basis. The winter roost is the most difficult problem because these birds may return to the same site from November through March. 

Cutting the tree down is a permanent solution, but the starlings may find another roost site nearby. The next-best solution is to prune the branches and open the canopy of the trees. This may make the trees less suitable for roosting. Removal of small branches will reduce the number of good perching sites and make them fly off to find a more dense roost. Starlings can be repelled by pyrotechnics (exploding shells and recorded starling distress calls), but this harassment must be continued until they leave. In urban areas, this harassment can be more stressful to human residents than to the birds and there may be local ordinances against this approach. Another deterrent is to apply a sticky substance, (Roost-No-More®) to the perches which makes the roost unsuitable; however, application is time consuming, expensive and may need to be reapplied next year. 

Starling roosts are difficult to manage. There is a stressing agent that can be used for control, but this must be done by a wildlife control professional. Check the Yellow Pages under Pest Control Services for a company that has experience in wildlife damage control. 

Q. Pigeons have been roosting and nesting on a ledge by our window and making a mess. What can we do?

A. Pigeons are highly dependent on people to provide them with food, water, and roost and nest sites. The best ways to solve this problem is to either exclude pigeons from the roost or make the roost undesirable. Other methods, like scaring and using repellents, are less successful.

Roosting and nesting on ledges can be discouraged by changing the angle of the ledge to 45 or more. Sheet metal, wood, plexiglas or other materials can be fastened to ledges to accomplish the desired angle. 

Porcupine wires (see figure 1) are nickel stainless steel prongs with sharp points extending upward. The base of these prongs can be installed on window sills and ledges. 

Figure 1
porcupine wire porcupine wires

There are some sticky adhesive materials that can be applied to ledges and sills that pigeons dislike which forces them to roost somewhere else. However, the sticky material will collect dirt and eventually lose its stickiness. It will be only a temporary solution. 

Q. Can you pick up lice from birds?

A. Nearly all bird species have parasites that live on them. These can include lice, mites, bird bugs (similar to bed bugs), fleas and ticks most of which are blood feeders. Each species of bird has its own complement of parasites that are often quite specific to that type of bird.

Occasionally, birds that nest on house ledges or under eaves can abandon their parasites along with their nest. Parasites rapidly leave a dead bird and will seek other warm-blooded animalsincluding humans. These unwanted critters may seek shelter in cracks and crevices of the house near the roosting/nesting areas. They may also enter houses through tiny cracks near these areas. 

The first step in eliminating bird parasites is to remove the roosting/nesting birds, nests and any dead birds from the area. You can prevent a recurrence of this situation by making the roost/nest site unsuitable (refer to the previous question). After removing nests and dead birds, you may want to spray the immediate area (outside only) with a residual insecticide like Dursban® (chlorpyrifos)to limit the movement of parasites. Be sure to read and follow all directions when using any pesticide. 

Q. I love to feed birds, but I want to discourage grackles, starlings and sparrows that are so greedy and eat so much of the seed. What can I do?

A. Try a feeder that is specifically designed for small birds (like finches) and fill it with thistle seed. Larger birds will not be able to use some of these feeders because their beaks are too large. With open feeders, try using smaller seeds to encourage only the smaller birds. English sparrows also feed on small seed; you may not be able to discourage English sparrows from your bird feeder if you want to feed finches. 

Q. The geese we fed for awhile were fun to watch, but now they are coming into our yard and making a mess. What can we do to discourage them?

A. Geese prefer grassy areas near water. If you live near a lake or pond, you may have a habitat ideally suited to them. If you have not already done so, stop feeding the geese! Feeding them only encourages them.

You can discourage geese from using a pond by mowing to the edge of the pond and using herbicides to eliminate emergent aquatic vegetation. Eliminate fertilizer applications to surrounding grass area to make the grass less nutritious. In cold climates, shut off pond aerators in the winter and allow the pond to freeze. 

Canada geese will not establish nesting territories if there is a steep pond embankment. Discourage nesting by vertically straightening the bank or by erecting 30-36" chicken wire fence around the pond at the water's edge. Chicken wire fencing will also protect gardens from waterfowl. 

Other actions may be difficult because Canada geese are migratory game birds that are protected by federal regulations. People wishing to take any migratory birds outside of the legal hunting season, must secure a federal permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Federal regulations also include the protection of nests and goslings; so, it is illegal to destroy nests containing eggs or chicks. 

Q. Can I shoot birds with a shotgun, pellet gun or air rifle in town?

A. There are regulations that prohibit the discharge of firearms in the city limits. This would include the firing of a shotgun. Persons should call the police department to ask about current regulations regarding pellet guns or air rifles.  updated June 12, 2001

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