featured photo: katie_mccolgan | CC 2.0
There are many reasons why you may want to keep birds away rather than attract them. In this article we won’t talk about what happens at the bird feeder, but what happens around it. Your front steps, pool, deck, balcony, gazebo…these are all areas that you may not be thrilled to have excess bird activity.
Why you may want to keep birds away
The most common reasons why you may be trying to deter birds from your property are;
- They are pooping all over your furniture and property
- They are very noisy, sometimes at very early hours
- They are nesting in problematic areas on your house, potentially causing damage
- They are eating all the fruit/vegetables from your trees and garden
How to keep birds away
Figuring out how to keep birds away can be a struggle. There isn’t a good one-size-fits-all solution. The most popular methods include;
- Clearing areas of debris
- Strategically placing your bird feeders
- Bird spikes
- Faux predators
- Electronic deterrents (annoying them with soundsO
- Motion activated sprinklers
- Reflective surfaces
Through trial and error with these methods, you should be able to find something that works for your situation. For real persistent birdies, you may have to use two methods at the same time to really keep them away.
Keep landscaping around decks, patios and pool areas well maintained and free of debris. Piles of leaves, grass clippings and overgrown bushes and weeds can provide good environments for many insects, which can in turn attract birds.
Unkempt and overgrown trees and shrubs can also provide a good spot for the birds to hide and nest. By keeping your landscaping neat and tidy, and trees/shrubs well pruned, they will provide less cover and will be less likely to attract flocks of birds looking for or shelter.
Strategic feeder placement
Are the pest birds in your yard interested in your birdseed? If this is what is attracting them you should consider the placement of your feeder. Keep the feeders a good distance away from areas you want to keep bird free. For example if you want a backyard patio to stay bird free, try placing your feeder on the side of the house or in the front yard.
If you can’t move them far enough away to keep bird traffic away from your area of concern, consider taking them down altogether for a period of time until the pest birds stop coming, then put them back out. This may be enough to stop their habit of coming to your yard. Or, try a type of food that they don’t like. For example, house sparrows won’t be very interested in suet.
Bird spikes are strips of metal or plastic with multiple upward pointed spikes that can be attached to problem areas such as awnings, gutters, chimneys, roofs, window sills, rafters and deck/balcony railings. The spikes are close together and will not allow the birds room to land. This can be especially helpful if you have a problem spot where birds like to land, sit, and poop!
Also remember, the smaller the bird, the MORE spikes you will need. It is important to thoroughly cover the area or the birds will just find spaces in-between, so you may need to double or triple up on the spike strips. It may not work as well for very small birds up in corners and rafters, as some people have had birds build their nests right on top of the spikes! For the price though, you don’t have much to lose in giving it a try.
These Aspectek Stainless Steel Bird Spikes have very positive reviews on Amazon. I think they will stand up over time better than plastic spikes.
Most backyard birds are afraid of birds-of-prey such as hawks and owls. You can use this to your advantage when trying to scare birds away.
You can buy a fake owl decoy and place it out in an open area to make your yard seem like an unsafe place. Reviews of fake predators such as this are mixed. They often work at first but then less and less as the birds catch on that the owl is not real. You can try moving the location of the owl around your yard periodically to help combat this. Or use an owl as a secondary tactic along with another deterrent.
The Solar Action Owl by Dalen Gardeneer has a head that moves side to side to make it more realistic. No need for batteries, it has a solar panel right on its head.
You can also buy “predator eyes”. These are inflatable “balloons” (kind of like a beach ball) with markings that appear to birds as both the large eyes of, or the open mouth of, a predator. Believe it or not, these are very effective for some people! You can hang them off trees, off of boat masts, around gazebos, above large doorways, etc. I even saw an Amazon review where someone put them in their pool to keep ducks away.
The Bird-X Scare-Eye Bird Repellent Predator Eyes Balloon 3-Pack uses holographic eyes, bright colors and wind movement to frighten birds away.
Electronic Bird Repellent
These devices use ultrasonic sound waves that are so unpleasant to birds that it will chase them away. I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews on these products. Some people seem to have great success while others can’t make it work. If you purchase one of these devices, try it out in different locations in your yard before giving up on it. It can take tweaking to find the right spot.
The CLEANRTH Super Advanced Sonic/Ultrasonic Bird Repeller has decent reviews and many people found it solved their problem. This can use batteries or plug into an outlet. It has a sensor that triggers the noise and strobing light.
Motion Activated Sprinkler
Birds are often frightened by sudden movement. A motion activated sprinkler could be a good tool in certain areas of the yard to keep birds away. The water won’t hurt the birds, but suddenly being sprayed, or even just having water shoot unexpectedly close to them, will usually be enough to frighten birds into flying away.
The Hoont Cobra motion sensor sprinkler gets good reviews and claims to work in light or dark. As a bonus this can be used for many other yard or garden pests like deer, raccoons, rabbits and bears.
Flashy, light reflective surfaces have been shown to repel most birds. For some reason they just don’t like the flashes of sunlight off of moving surfaces. There are many inexpensive repellents in this category you can try such as Scare Tape, Reflective Spirals, and Mirror Owls. Hang where they will get a little bit of a breeze for movement. I saw one solution online where the homeowner attached reflective pinwheels all around their deck railing. I’ve read that reflective deterrents are better for woodpeckers, pigeons, grackles, crows, gulls and starlings but they may not work as well on sparrows and finches.
- Scare Tape: De-Bird Bird Repellent Scare Tape
- Reflective Spirals: Homescape Bird Repellent Reflective Scare Rods
- Mirror Owls: De-Bird Bird Repellent Reflective Owl
Types of birds that cause problems
Any bird can potentially be problematic if they decide to take over the wrong spot, or show up in large numbers. But the main offenders tend to be pigeons, starlings, blackbirds, grackles, and house sparrows. This tends to be because these birds in particular have adapted to urban environments, and can congregate in large numbers and live in close proximity to humans.
The main concern people have with large flocks of pigeons are their droppings. Pigeons seem to have an affinity for balconies, ledges and other man-made structures. And they poop, a lot. Contact with their feces, or even the dust that forms after the droppings have dried, can carry hazardous bacteria and fungi. They can also carry ticks, fleas and mites, which in turn can spread parasites. The chances of actually catching a disease or infection from a pigeon are low, so don’t panic. But if you are dealing with large amounts of pigeon poop it is certainly something to be concerned about.
Best Pigeon deterrents
- Use bird spikes where they like to land (best method)
- Owl decoys
- Scare tape and other reflective deterrents
- Remove any food sources, especially any bird seed or other food on the ground
Starlings / Blackbirds / Grackles
Starlings are invasive in the U.S. but can be a nuisance even on their home turf. They can form huge flocks which can be incredibly noisy. If one shows up in your yard, there is a good chance more will follow. Even small groups can eat up all your bird seed, bully smaller birds and leave droppings all over.
Best deterrents for the “black” birds: Starlings / Blackbirds / Grackles
- Often, they come looking for food. They prefer ground seed, platform and hopper feeders. So stick to mesh or tube feeders with small perches, and downward facing suet cages.
- Sonic blast a large flock with electronic noise machines
- Owl decoys
See our article here on keeping them out of your bird feeders.
House Sparrows are another species not native to the United States and are often considered to be pests. They are very adapted to urban life and are comfortable being in close quarters with humans. This could be problematic in your yard. They have a tendency to build nests in troublesome spots like dryer and fan vents, awnings, louvered attic windows, under window air conditioning units (this happened to me!), and porch overhangs.
Best deterrents for House Sparrows
- Install Dryer Vent covers
- Make sure louvered attic windows have screens
- Don’t leave out food and make sure all trash bins have covers
- For small crevices or corner ledges, try blocking off the area with Copper Mesh Netting
- Hang predator eyes
Common Problem Areas
Front Porches / Gazebos
These areas can have rafters and nice little corners for birds to nest. Deterrents to try: bird spikes, hanging predator eyes, scare tape and other hanging reflectors, using Copper Mesh Netting on crevices and nooks. I saw a house while driving in Florida that had a big predator eye balloon strung up about six feet above their front door, likely to keep birds from nesting on the light fixture above their door. If none of those options work, some people also use owl decoys and sound machines as deterrents.
If birds inside the gazebo roof is a big problem, consider screening it in. Not only will that keep out birds, but can also create a little sanctuary from mosquitos and other bugs!
Patios / Decks / Pool Decks
Any of the deterrents we listed in this article can be employed for these areas. Choose what makes the most sense for your layout. Owl decoys and motion activated sprinklers might work well for large open areas, while bird spikes or hanging deterrents may be the best thing to try for fenced areas or deck railings.
Many people live in apartments, especially in larger cities, and even feed birds from their balconies. Balcony railings can become common pigeon hangouts. Installing bird spikes on railings should help to keep them away.
An owl decoy on top of the pergola, eye balloons and reflective deterrents hanging from the pergola, and bird spikes attached on top of the pergola are all good methods of defense to try.
Many people complain about birds pooping on their car. The best way to combat this is to change your parking space, if you can. If you are parking underneath a large tree, there isn’t all that much you can do. You can try hanging reflective spirals or predator eyes from the tree, or placing a sound machine facing towards the tree. If all else fails, consider a car cover.
Using an owl decoy or even a good old fashioned scarecrow near a trampoline might help. Some people tie cable-ties around the rim, with the pointy end facing up as a DIY “bird spike”. You can also try hanging ribbons of scare tape around the trampoline. If all else fails, use a trampoline cover when the trampoline is not being used. You don’t have to purchase an expensive cover, a simple tarp with the ends weighted down should do the trick. If your trampoline has a cage around it, installing bird spikes across the top can help keep them from landing.
How NOT to keep birds away
When looking up bird deterrents you may come across some extreme options, such as shooting or poison. As frustrating as birds can sometimes be, at Bird Feeder Hub we never recommend harming our feathered friends. Here are some potentially harmful deterrents that you may want to avoid.
Bird Repellent Gels
These gels are spread on a surface and remain tacky, and the birds don’t like the slick and gooey feeling and won’t want to land. They claim to be non-toxic and non-harmful. The problem is that the sticky gel is going to get all over the birds feathers, and it may be very hard for them to clean it off. Affecting a birds feathers can hinder its ability to fly.
Feathers also insulate them from the cold, and if the downy layer is matted with goop, they won’t be able to retain heat properly. Even worse, some Amazon reviews I read said birds were get fully stuck in the goop and sometimes even were found dead, much like a mouse on a glue trap. This just doesn’t seem like a safe or humane option.
Shooting, trapping, and poison
From the U.S Fish and wildlife service, “All wild birds (except pigeons, english sparrows and starlings) are protected by federal and state laws. You may not trap, kill or possess protected species without federal and state permits.”
If you are dealing with pigeons, house sparrows or starlings, technically you have the right to kill them. That’s not something we endorse on this site. I also strongly caution against use of poison for its ability to indirectly cause harm. Say you feed poison to a pigeon. What happens if that pigeon gets eaten by a hawk, owl, fox or other creature before it dies? Now you’ve potentially killed a second creature that you did not intend.
These lightweight nets are meant to be placed over fruit trees, bushes and gardens to protect them from hungry birdies. They can also be used over any tree or shrub where you might be having problems with flocks landing and/or roosting. However when I was reading product reviews, even the top rated brands had some comments from people who have seen birds getting stuck and unable to free themselves. Some people even found dead birds with snapped necks. While this may work for some, it seems very risky and could end up accidentally killing your favorite backyard birds.
Birds can be frustrating and persistent when they have decided your yard is the perfect spot for them. But with a little trial and error, and even creative thinking, you can find ways to decrease unwanted activity. Amidst the annoyance, try to also remember to admire their ingenuity and ability to adapt. They aren’t evil invaders of our personal space, we are just trying to coexist peacefully.