Keeping Birds Away

Florida is a bird lover’s paradise. Birders visit Florida from around the world for a chance to experience the Great Birding Trail, and to spot rare species.

But, for folks living in Florida, birds can cause headaches, and massive property damage.
Recently, we’ve had a problem with birds.

For the past several months, our condo has been undergoing maintenance and a structural assessment. As part of this inspection, our HOA hired contractors to remove ceiling panels. Unfortunately, the contractor lived up to Florida’s famously bad contractor reputation, and they left mid-job. Six months later, the ceiling panels still haven’t been put back. Suffice to say it’s turned into a frustrating and expensive affair, which will result in a large special assessment. Our neighbors’ emotions range from bemused to furious. We’re trying to take it in stride.

Besides being expensive for our community, this half-finished project has left us vulnerable to bird problems. It’s been frustrating, and I’ve scoured bird books and the internet in search of solutions.

As it always goes, after we had this problem, I began seeing bird deterrent devices and solutions everywhere I look. I became aware of the constant battle to keep birds off of boats awnings, and how to keep seagulls off of boats in general.

Before it affected me — this might have seemed like a silly annoyance. To be honest, I could imagine myself snickering at a Don-Quixote battle of man against bird. But, it’s actually a big problem for many people. Birds can cause major damage, in surprising ways. It’s a problem worth worrying about.

Why and How to Keep Birds Away

As they perch atop sailboat masts, or on top of awnings, they create an enormous mess down below. Bird poop and droppings can damage gelcoat finish, especially if it’s not cleaned up promptly. I can’t imagine the gruesome mess an osprey might make while devouring a big, juicy fish!

In our case, our goal wasn’t only to keep birds off of our boat; we needed to keep them out of our house, porch and attic, too! We definitely did not want a family of pigeons to make nests in our attic, eves and rafters. We didn’t want bird droppings, mites, bugs, or who-knows-what-else in our house. We needed to keep these birds away from our dock, and away from our house, fast.

Thankfully, I found a surprisingly good and effective solution. It seems to be working well. Happily, it’s also the lowest cost, and most simple solution I came across during my research.

Before I reveal my favorite bird deterrent solution, I’ll outline the methods I came across. I, and my neighbors, have tried many of these. Most of these boat bird deterrents — my neighbor prefers the term “bird scarers” — rely on visual repellent methods.

Visual Bird Deterrents

  • Artificial Owls
  • Fake snakes
  • Fishing line
  • Bird spikes
  • Reflective CDs

Bird Perch Deterrents

  • Plastic zip-ties, attached and cut into little spikes
  • Fishing line (Monofilament)
  • Spikes

The Best Bird Deterrent I Found

In my experience, monofilament fishing line was the best way to deter birds. It was cheap, easy, and effective.

Plus, it is a very versatile method, which can be applied to lots of different situations. While doing research, I found that many other credible organizations recommend it, including an agricultural publication from the University of Montana.

Based on my research, it’s not clear why fishing line is an effective bird deterrent. The University of Montana publication speculates notes that the method hasn’t been extensively studied, but guesses that it may deter birds because of a few possible reasons:

  • Birds can see glistening sunlight bouncing off of the line
  • Birds detect an uncertain obstruction, and are afraid of it
  • Birds are afraid of a tangle hazard

I first learned about this trick from an unlikely place, years ago; a fantastic Planet Money podcast episode. The show was about a chicken farmer who needed to deter bald eagles and other birds of prey from eating his chickens. He’d tried everything he could think of, but he couldn’t deter the birds. He couldn’t hurt them because bald eagles are a protected species. A listener from the show recommended the fishing line trick, which is where I got the idea.

Things You Should Know Before Trying

If you decide to try this, please be careful, and aware of these important considerations:

  • You must ensure that birds don’t become tangled and injured!
  • I put little markers of tape on the line, so it would be visible to birds.
  • Please do not let the fishing line wind up in the water, or become litter.
  • Fishing line is horrible for marine life, and is one of the worst sources of marine pollution.
  • Sunlight will damage the fishing line, so it needs to be replaced periodically.

If anyone tries this and finds it helpful, or to be ineffective, please share your experience and any ideas you may have!