Keep Birds from Splattering Your Property and Brand

When the iconic red-shingled roof at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego began to look milky white because of incessant bird splatters, Sonny Cataldo knew it was time to take action. As the hotel’s director of facilities, he wanted to control the protected seagull population that had turned the tiered topper into an avian lavatory. “I hired a falconer,” says Cataldo, explaining that every hotel has its distinct bird challenges. Hotels on the sea coast routinely share an invasion of hungry—and smart—gulls who find delectable pickings on hotel patios, walkways, and parking lots.

How smart are these birds? Smart enough to recognize birds of prey patrolling the hotel grounds and to actually detect a pattern of schedules when the falconer and his hawks show up. “We have to stagger the schedule to keep the seagulls on high alert,” Cataldo notes. With that sort of unpredictability accomplished, the gulls now simply stay away from the grounds.

The innovative bird management program has not only discouraged the congregation of birds but also inspired guests to participate in enriching interactions with the falconer. “It’s been a win-win and highly cost-effective,” Cataldo says.

Of course, city hotels face other sorts of problems with seemingly immoveable populations of English sparrows, European starlings, and the king of all nuisance nesters—pigeons. “All three were introduced from overseas, and they now compete with our native birds for space and food,” explains Kim Lewis, division manager for bird control, Rentokil North America. “They are considered pest birds.”


Because pigeons do not migrate like other birds or move to fields for summer feeding, they are a year-round problem. Shannon Sked, entomologist and manager of specialty services at No Fly Zone, in Tom’s River, N.J., explains that pigeons are simply doing what comes naturally. “Pigeons are native to the rocky mountain cliffs of northern Egypt, so when they see a building ledge, it looks a lot like Alexandria to them,” he says. “They don’t know they’re in New York or Chicago.”

The typical broad, straight ledges found in urban architecture are perfect for breeding, roosting, and loafing behaviors. As for nesting, “Pigeons require three points of contact to nest—so the inner corner of a ledge is perfect,” Sked says. Indeed, any protected area invites birds. “Check your rooftop, ductwork, HVAC units, soffits, and canopy overhangs,” Lewis suggests. “If there is an area that will support birds, they will come.”

While the birds may feel protected, hotel properties are at risk, standing to lose millions in bird-related damage to property, machinery, ventilation systems, vehicles, and even brand image. In addition, there’s biohazard associated with nests and droppings, Sked says. This biomaterial can transmit more than 60 diseases to humans, including some that are actually fatal.

Lewis agrees, adding that even when direct contact with droppings is avoided, the particulates can be drawn into the ventilation system and circulated into guestrooms and public areas. Furthermore, the droppings can clog gutters and promote slippery surfaces.

Droppings also make for sick buildings, Sked warns. “Because birds do not urinate, they expel uric acid within their droppings, which are caustic to substances like concrete. With long enough exposure, your concrete can erode.” He also notes that birds involved in nesting behavior can damage buildings as they pick away at caulking, insulation, flashing, and sealants to use as nest-building materials.

So what can a property manager do to control the bird population? It’s all a matter of thinking like a bird, Sked says. “Once you know what the birds like—covered parking garages, ledges in entrance porticos, granite ledges—you can go about modifying them to make them less bird-friendly. The real solution to bird problems is to remove the conditions that attract them. Also, be sure to cover trash areas. An uncovered Dumpster is like an engraved invitation.”

Some of the most effective control paraphernalia include exclusion netting, spikes to discourage perching, wiring deterrent systems in parking garages or under porticos, and even slanted surfaces and bird flashing that will not allow a bird to rest or nest. “There are also repellants available and gels that bother their feet,” Lewis says. “But in general, people love birds. We don’t want to hurt them. We just want to make properties unattractive to them so they will move on.”

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