The sweet sounds of songbirds are typically a welcome sign of summer. However, when they move in for the season, that means they make nests.
If you’re a homeowner, you need to stay alert so that birds making their tidy homes don’t disrupt your tidy home.
Some of the same people who would be horrified to learn of a family of rats living in their basement, don’t think twice about birds nesting in their eaves. But they should!
Some birds, such as starlings, English sparrows and pigeons, are exceptional opportunists and should be discouraged from living anywhere in your house or garage.
At best, they might only roost on all the roofs in sight of somebody’s regular handout, all the while depositing prolific amounts of acidic droppings on each roof near the food. This poopy environment creates ideal conditions for supporting a healthy crop of roof moss. And worse than that, they can spread harmful diseases and create expensive structural damage to your home.
Starlings introduced from Europe
In this area, one of the worst pest birds to the average homeowner is the starling. It was introduced to America from Europe in the 19th century. With the abundant habitat of the South, starlings soon became noisy, swarming menaces, in flocks of millions.
If you don’t remember them from your youth, that’s because they didn’t reach us on the West Coast until the past several decades. They are now a fact of life.
Starlings are dark and muscular and can be distinguished from other blackbirds by their oily sheen, short tail, and long and slender yellow bill.
They are a prolific bunch, with each pair having two broods and averaging eight offspring a year. They often travel in huge flocks numbering in the hundreds or thousands.
If you have encountered a starling pair creating a nest in your house, you will recall the extraordinary persistence and dedication to their task. Starlings are even known to stand by and watch a pair of other birds make a nest, then kick them out and use it themselves.
Why worry about bird nests?
If you’re a birdwatcher — as so many on the Harbor are — you probably already think of starlings as the enemy. They are considered an invasive species, along with pigeons and English sparrows.
As a homeowner, you’ll want to do what you can to discourage them from building their home in your house. For one thing, they use copious amounts of straw, twigs and grasses to make their nests, potentially creating a fire hazard for you.
Also, gutters and drainage pipes clogged with starling nests often back up, which can cause extensive water damage.
In addition, bird nests built in chimneys and ventilation systems can block airflow and spread diseases through the system.
Bird droppings, being very acidic, can actually eat away at many substrates, especially tar-based roofing materials, eventually causing leaks. The uric acid in the feces will also corrode stone, metal and masonry and do great damage to siding, insulation, air conditioning equipment and machinery.
Translation: It’s not just yucky; bird droppings can damage your home!
Birds can be health hazard
For most people, it’s common sense to rid their house of a colony of rats or mice. The same thinking needs to apply to pest birds.
Along with damaging your house, the bacteria, parasites and fungal agents in their feces can pose a serious health risk.
Besides direct contamination of food or water, airborne spores from drying feces in air ducts and vents can settle on exposed food and transfer disease.
Pest birds also harbor ticks, fleas, mites and other parasites, which are great transmitters of several hundred viral and bacterial diseases.
Keep that in mind when you’re trying to remove their nests or disinfect their messes — you may want to wear gloves and even a face mask.
Getting rid of them
So, how do you discourage starlings from nesting at your house, especially if you would like to encourage other birds to nest nearby?
As with all other aspects of keeping a healthy house, you must be observant, vigilant and more persistent than the pests that seek to invade.
First, imagine you are a bird looking for a nesting place in a warm, dry place. Tour the exterior of your home, paying close attention to the eaves and gutter areas, as well as where the siding meets the roof and all of your exhaust fan vents.
You’re looking for any kind of 1-inch to 1½-inch holes, open spaces between trim boards, missing roofing or siding materials, and especially nesting material and white bird poop present or protruding from your house. Maybe you will find what you had suspected last spring: an old nest site.
Since starlings and many other birds use the same nest for generations, you will want to remove any nesting materials from the cavity and seal the hole. Also, look for a secondary entrance.
In your inspection, look closely at the roof ventilation holes or vent strips under your eaves. They are critical to the health of your home, so you don’t want to seal those.
At the same time, they are the premium nesting sites in your home, providing shelter, heat, ventilation and a view. If you have a damaged or missing vent screen, or just open vent holes, we suggest securing some heavy-gauge, galvanized hardware cloth with a ¼-inch wire mesh over them. That should effectively let the air in while keeping the birds out. If the birds have created holes, block or replace the wooden material.
Starlings aren’t all bad. They eat massive amounts of cranefly larvae and aerate your lawn in their search. Other birds have similar benefits. Still, it’s important to keep them from sharing your home.
Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County. Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.