Meet the expert: Bird proofing with Chris Smith

It’s that time of year again. Gulls are breeding and we’re steadily getting more call outs about pest birds. Today, we’re talking all things bird proofing with Chris Smith, our National Project Manager. 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your bird proofing experience? 

A: I worked for another company as a bird proofing technician for 2-3 years. I was going out putting up nets and spikes, and basically doing anything that involved bird proofing. After that, I moved into managing projects, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last four years. 

Q: What does your current job role involve?

A: Once an inquiry comes in from a customer and there’s a quote needed, I go out to the site and do a survey. I work with the customer to understand their requirements then I write a report on my recommendations. Once we’ve agreed a price with the customer, I plan the work in with my teams. The team will get a job pack so they understand exactly what they’re doing and the health and safety aspects of the job. 

Q: What are the main challenges with bird proofing?

A: We get a lot of challenges, like when there’s a pest bird problem on a listed building. Gull control can also be a challenge, particularly since the licensing changes. Gulls are quite determined; once they get onto a building, it’s hard to get them off it. 

Q: What locations have you managed bird proofing projects in? 

A: I’ve managed projects everywhere, from Inverness to Ipswich, Northern Ireland, Portsmouth, and Southampton. 

Q: Do you find that some types of buildings are more prone to pest bird problems than others?

A: When it comes to pigeons, any building is vulnerable. They do tend to like warehouses and factories though. This is because there’s usually poor door management, with forklifts going in and out all day for example. With the doors open, pigeons see their chance to get in and nest. Pigeons also like solar panels. We’re getting a lot of enquiries about this at the moment. 

What you’ll see with pigeons is that they like city centres because there are plenty of alleyways and internal courtyards with bins. There are also plenty of places they can shelter from the wind. 

With seagulls, again they aren’t too fussy about the buildings they choose. Though they do like asbestos roofs. These roofs give out a lot of heat and they are rough so the gulls can grip and walk across them better. Gulls also tend to like ledges and canopies, like those in loading docks. 

Q: Do you get call outs for other types of birds?

A: We do get call outs for birds like starlings. They mainly cause issues in rural areas and will target any building that’s standing on its own in the middle of a field like a cow barn. The problem with starlings is that they come in large numbers. I’ve seen 1000 of them in a cow barn. That’s a lot of droppings! 

This can be a real problem for farmers, not just because of the noise and mess. When cows walk through bird droppings, their feet can become infected which equals some expensive vet bills. 

Q:What bird proofing methods do you recommend most often to clients who want to reduce bird activity on their site?

A: For 100% exclusion, I’d always recommend netting. It can protect roofs and gutters, and once it’s fitted, it will stop birds landing on your building, full stop. Or if we’re dealing with solar panels, we’d use mesh instead of netting for the same effect. 

Then after that, depending on the type of environment, you have things like spikes. Spikes are a good alternative when it’s not appropriate to put netting in front of a window, for example. 

As you go down the chain of bird proofing solutions, you have things like bird gel. It all depends on the survey because every site is different. 

I usually do a survey which is free of charge, then I’d look to give the customer three bird proofing options plus the pros and cons of each option. 

Q: How have the changes in licensing affected gull control?

A: About 2-3 years ago, you could remove nest and eggs with a general licence. All birds are protected by law so any Tom, Dick, or Harry couldn’t just go and shoot one. The law states you’re only allowed to do so for a specific reason like if the birds are a danger to life or a risk to public health. 

Back then, we’d go up on the roof and remove the nest. The gull then had to rebuild it and that takes time. By the time they built the nest it was too late and they didn’t have any young. When they returned the following breeding season, we’d do the same again. The idea was to force them to go somewhere else. 

The reason that the licensing has changed is that a census was carried out on gulls numbers in the 1970s. The most recent one was done in 2020 and it showed a significant decline in the population. Natural England now considers them critically endangered so now you can’t remove eggs and nests as part of the general licence. 

If you did want permission to remove eggs and nests, you’d need to apply for a specific licence and show that you’ve tried other methods and they haven’t worked. 

Q: What’s the biggest myth about bird proofing?

A: That it’s cheap and it works instantly. Sometimes customers think that pest control is cheap, but the bird proofing side of things isn’t because it’s quite specialist. Take netting. It can be a cost-effective option, but it would work out expensive if you needed to cover a huge roof. 

In that case, I’d recommend falconry or other deterrents. However, that’s not a cheap option either. For falconry to be effective, technicians have to fly the bird of prey over your site at least three times per week from March until August. It’s also not an instant solution. Think about it, if there have been pest birds on your site for years, getting rid of them isn’t going to be a quick and easy job. Gulls return to the same breeding site every year and they live for 20-30 years. They aren’t going to be gone in a day. 

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