Battling bird damage can be costly - here's what you can do about it
Each year FMs face countless problems such as damaged buildings and surroundings from birds that are not effectively controlled. Feathers can block gutters and drainage systems leading to water penetration.
The bacteria in their acidic droppings cause erosion and can result in irreversible damage to buildings. Worse still, their habit of feeding off polluted sources, such as rubbish dumps, means they transmit germs to human environments, spreading diseases like salmonella as a result.
In the Middle East, the design of buildings tends to deter birds from nesting. However, when pest control companies are called out to deal with the issues caused by birds, the problem is usually quite large scale.
Sean Baker, Natpest managing director advises: “Culturally, in the Middle East, birds are liked. Unlike the UK, there is no legislation for buildings to be free of them, and the health and safety risk that they pose is something that many people here are unaware of.”
Feral pigeons are the most common cause of bird pest problems. Sociable creatures among their type, they nest in large groups, and the biggest and most obvious problems they cause are the huge amounts of droppings they leave behind.
“It can create no end of problems,” says Baker. “They nest and foul in masses. The large amount of fouling can get into the air intake of AC systems and block up roof gutters, resulting in the creation of pockets of water on the roof.”
Liability cases filed by victims who have slipped and injured themselves in large puddles of bird droppings, have forced companies operating in European countries to deal with the issue.
These companies have also had to ensure nothing attracting birds is located at lower levels of the buildings, which may encourage the birds to swoop down and attack people.
However, it is the potential risks to health and safety caused by birds, particularly pigeons, that is the most worrying.
“Stories of dead birds falling into roof tanks and contaminating water are all too common,” said Baker.
Feeding off rubbish dumps means birds are notorious for carrying diseases including salmonella and ornithosis which they can pass on to humans. They can also cause respiratory diseases, caused by the fungus grown on the droppings.
“It is common for building owners to just ignore the problem and send a cleaner out to clean the roof. No thought is given to how much health damage the cleaner faces through prolonged exposure to droppings without the correct equipment such as masks and protective clothing.”
Birds can also cause the issue of secondary pests such as mites, moths, filthflies and carpet beetles.
“Recently, workers in a TV station were threatening to strike over the issue of mites that had gotten into keyboards and were irritating staff. An investigation was done into where the nest was to no avail. Eventually, the culprit was found. A dead pigeon on the window ledge of the station was attracting the mites,” said Baker.
“Potentially, this could have turned out horrendously for the station if all their staff walked out and they had to close down.
“That’s why, proper control of birds is required early on before it causes detrimental issues for the organisation.”
“Even owners and carers of horses need to be wary of the problems birds can cause,” advises Baker.
“Horses can get West Nile Virus, passed on by a mosquito that has bitten an infected bird and then the horse. This infection can be fatal for them.”
But it’s not just common buildings that face the bird problem. Airports have reported a number of occasions when birds have flown into engines and run into plane windows during takeoff or landing.
Although Dubai Airport has yet to report on any major plane problems caused by birds, it does have to take steps to ensure birds are kept at bay, particularly because of the structural damage to buildings and paint corrosion of the planes bird droppings cause.
Dorothee Stein, Head of Facility Care at Dubai Airport said: “The airport has to make considerations to remove anything that might attract the birds. We have no trees close to the airport as birds are drawn to them.”
However, there is no foolproof way of keeping birds out of the airport altogether.
“You can never totally avoid them. Our biggest battle is when they enter the building terminals and hangars through air flaps and open doors and start nesting inside the high arches,” says Stein.
So what can be done? The biggest challenge is when the birds are on site, believes Baker, so prevention is undoubtedly better than cure.
“The first step is to look at what is inviting them in, for example, food sources and removing these. This should lower the population of birds entering the area.”
Examples of steps taken to exclude birds include proofing the building with non lethal wire and using metal spikes to protect beams and ledges. These aim to stop birds from roosting.
“Some of the measures we have implemented are securing the doors with plastic strips so the birds can’t get in,” said Stein.
“It is also common practice in this part of the world to send a falcon out to hunt them,” she added.
Baker believes that a key factor in determining the success of a building’s pest control management system is drawing up an agreement which outlines who deals with the ‘bird problem’.
“Many FM contracts include pest removal - that is your day to day bugs - however it should not be assumed that birds are part of the deal.
“It’s all too easy for a building manager to get a cleaner to clean the bird mess, but it’s not solving the problem.
If FMs are going to provide cleaning services to a building and can see a potential issue with birds, they should highlight it to the building owner in advance of them securing the contract. This will avoid later confusion and disputes,” he concludes.
Foul or fantastic?
Pigeon droppings are considered a major problem for property owners in today’s world. However in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, droppings were used as highly prized fertilisers and considered to be far more potent than farmyard manure.
Armed guards were stationed at the entrance of dovecotes (pigeon houses) to prevent thieves from stealing it!
One of the biggest reasons for this was that during the 16th century, it was the only known source of saltpetre, an essential ingredient of gunpowder and so was considered a highly sought after ingredient as a result.
In Iran, where eating pigeon flesh was forbidden, dovecotes were set up and used simply as a source of fertiliser for melon crops and in France and Italy it was used to fertilise vineyards and hemp crops.