Managing Nuisance Birds - August 4, 2010
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

Most people really enjoy birds in their gardens. They can easily be attracted with feeders and plants that provide food, cover, and nesting sites. Once in a while, we attract birds that are less welcome or cause property damage. In most instances, the damage is minimal and can be tolerated. On occasion, we may need to take steps to discourage or exclude birds. Birds may carry diseases and parasites which are capable of infecting humans, and bird droppings can promote soil conditions favoring development of such fungal diseases as histoplasmosis.

Virtually all bird species are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. In Arizona, the exceptions are English sparrows, European starlings, and feral pigeons (rock doves). These three species are non-native birds that can be controlled without a permit. It is illegal to harm or harass all other bird species without a hunting license (for game species) or a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (for non-game species).

On occasion, any bird species can damage property, crops, or cause health hazards. Woodpeckers commonly cause damage to wood-sided homes when they try to create nesting cavities or store food. They are particularly attracted to unpainted surfaces of cedar and redwood, knotholes, and gaps in siding. Woodpeckers also seem to prefer vacant houses. Blue jays and scrub jays can damage fruit and nut crops. Ravens and crows can harm crops, carry diseases, and prey on other bird and wildlife species. Blue herons eat fish from backyard ponds. These are the species I most often receive calls about.

Integrated pest management (IPM) techniques should always be used. IPM is a stepwise process that utilizes planning and minimizes negative impacts on non-target organisms. The steps of IPM are: (1) identify the pest, (2) monitor damage until it reaches an economic threshold (unacceptable damage level), (3) apply multiple management strategies appropriate for that pest, (4) monitor effectiveness of the management strategies, and (5) reapply if necessary.

Most bird conflicts can be resolved by modifying habitat. The most direct approach is applying exclusion techniques. Well-placed bird netting will either prevent or discourage most birds from causing damage to crops and structures. When protecting fruit trees, close the netting around the trunk to avoid trapping birds inside. Small pieces of sheet metal can be used cover woodpeckers holes on wood homes. This often discourages further activity.

Frightening devices can be effective, but usually only for a short time. These include recorded distress calls and scaring devices (streamers, owl decoys, hawk silhouettes, scarecrows, etc.). Birds often habituate to frightening techniques. Therefore, they should only be used when damage levels are low and should be varied in placement every few days.

Tactile repellents can be effective at changing bird roosting sites or damage locations. These are usually tacky substances (tanglefoot) that are applied to common roosting areas. The birds dislike standing in it and avoid these areas. These compounds can also discolor paint and may get runny in the heat. Try these gooey products on a test patch to observe the effect before using on large areas. Birds can also be discouraged from roosting by fastening porcupine wires (small clusters of wire that have several ends that point outward) to common roost sites. These are very effective under eaves and in buildings with small openings.

If you feed wild birds and have conflicts with some of those same species, then it may be time to reassess which birds you feed and/or what kind of feed you provide. Remember that all wild birds except starlings, sparrows, and pigeons are either protected or managed as game species. Exclusion is often the best solution to avoiding damage. We can also learn to tolerate some losses or damage that birds may cause.

If you have not yet registered for the Arizona Highlands Garden Conference, then you might want to check it out. This year’s theme is Sustainable Gardening for Homes and Communities. It will be held at the Mazatzal Casino in Payson August 27 and 27, 2010. For more information, visit the conference website:

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Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: July 29, 2010
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