At our company, we are constantly training our PMPs to document all conducive conditions, which of course includes poor sanitation. But how do we get our clients to practice good sanitation? After all, especially for food plants, we are not performing sanitation.
The answer is knowing how to effectively communicate and document poor sanitation practices for clients to implement/follow. But, before we do this, we must be knowledgeable about appropriate protocols for food plants.
WHERE TO START. Ask your client for an opportunity to review the master sanitation schedule to identify if any areas need to be added. Sit down and review areas that present a pest concern because of poor sanitation.
Floors drains can be a big issue due to the build-up of food particles, water and other stuff that small flies and cockroaches love. Regular inspection/sanitation treatments are a must.
Processing machines can produce significant amounts of splatter and spillage that attract pests. It may be necessary to regularly take apart certain machine components to clean and inspect for pests.
Ceilings are a source of cobwebs and spider webs, and overhead pipes and exposed beams in warehouses must be cleaned regularly to prevent dust build-up that can attract warehouse beetles and other pests.
Loading docks are a prime area for pests since they are a collection point for everything people don’t know what to do with after use. Broken-down pallets, damaged boxes, spilled food commodities and excess moisture collects in cracks and crevices and attracts pests.
Break rooms, cafeterias, locker rooms and restrooms are pest hot spots because of the abundance of food and harborage locations. Employees bring in food and store it (and sometimes forget it) in lockers. Food waste may not be properly cleaned up in break rooms and vending machines may have food and liquid spillage. Regular cleaning and staff education are needed to lessen the pest threat.
Roof leaks can lead to big sanitation issues and the threat of harmful bacteria, including salmonella from bird droppings on the roof. If water collects in remote areas of a plant, it can support mold, fungi and insect activity.
First-in and first-out inventory management is another good practice. If product has been sitting on a shelf two years past its use date, it can spoil and attract pests. Be sure to document using a bar code system when product arrives and when the use by date is.
Weed control around plants and rail lines will eliminate potential pest harborage areas. Mow grass regularly, trim trees/bushes, choose plantings correctly (non-fruit bearing trees/bushes) and leave a 2-foot rock barrier around the exterior to reduce rodent burrowing.
Proper drainage is essential to eliminating fly, termite and mosquito harborage areas. Make sure drains in the parking lot and loading dock are clear, irrigation pipes and sprinkler heads are not leaking, and that gutters and downspouts drain away from the building.
Garbage/recycling dumpsters need to be placed on a concrete pad at least 100 feet from a structure. The pad, lid and bin – “dumpster juice” is attractive to flies, rodents and stinging insects – need to be cleaned regularly. Make sure staff does not place bags around the bin when it is filled; if this happens often, request more frequent pick-ups.
Equipment including pallets, pipes, storage racks, etc., need to be stored away from loading dock doors/entrances, and they need to be cleaned before they are brought back inside.
CHECKLIST. A sanitation checklist should include (adapted from Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Management Operations):
FINAL THOUGHTS. Providing your pest management perspective on what good sanitation looks like will help your food plant clients develop a more effective master sanitation schedule, which will positively impact your pest management success in that facility.
Shane McCoy has a master’s degree in entomology with 23 years of experience. He is the chair of the Copesan Technical Committee and director of quality and technical training for Wil-Kil Pest Control, Sun Prairie, Wis. He also has 12 years of pest management experience with the U.S. Air Force.
Copesan is an alliance of pest management companies with locations throughout North America. To learn more, visit www.copesan.com.
Pest control and public health are intricately related. Because of pest control, dollars are saved, lives are spared and quality of life is enhanced every day.
The disciplines of pest control and public health are closely related, both with rich histories, fascinating characters and important contributions (Goddard 2012). However, many people still view pest control technicians as “bug killers” and have little or no appreciation for their contributions to public health. Here’s what you need to know to dispel this myth for your staff.
PUBLIC HEALTH BACKGROUND. Long before we understood human anatomy and the causes of disease, health and hygiene issues were usually handled by religious leaders, who might attempt to solve them using potions, concoctions, plants, chants or devices. Some thought diseases were caused by unbalanced fluids in the body.
During the Roman Empire days, great strides were made in providing clean water and handling of sewage. Long, majestic aqueducts brought fresh water from great distances. Filth and dead animals no longer dominated city streets, and swamps were drained.
Then, came the Dark (or Middle) Ages (approximately 476 A.D to the 14th century). During this time of social upheaval, there was a significant disintegration in science and sanitation, and diseases raged. For example, roughly one-third of the population died from plague, or the “Black Death.”
The Renaissance (roughly the 14th-17th centuries) brought about a rebirth in health. Scientists and others started to study the human body and there was renewed interest in what made people sick. The crowning achievement came with the publication of the germ theory of disease in the early 1880s. The battle against viruses, bacteria and other pathogens was on!
PEST CONTROL BACKGROUND. The origins of organized pest control can be found in the Middle Ages, with the focus being on rats. “Rat Catchers” appeared in cities and towns with some, such as the Pied Piper of Hamlin, achieving notoriety (probably for reasons good and bad!).
Around the 18th century, rat catchers became somewhat specialized in their techniques; traps became a bit more sophisticated, chemicals appeared on the scene and rat-sniffing dogs were employed.
Starting in the 1840s and through the 1900s, many European rat catchers emigrated to the U.S., where they set up pest control businesses. This began the pest control industry in the United States.
DEFINITIONS. Before we get to the meat of the story, it is useful to look at a few definitions. Take a minute and ask yourself “What is a pest?” What did you come up with? One definition I like is “a pest is a species or organism that interferes with human (and animal) health, activities or property, or is objectionable.”
“Pest control” simply can be defined as “the theory and practice of controlling pests,” although we all know there is much more to it! But what about public health? This may not be quite as obvious to the reader. In 1920, C.E.A. Winslow defined public health as “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society; organizations, public and private; communities and individuals.” (I added the italics to emphasize the three key pillars.)
Finally, what is “health”? According to the World Health Organization, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (italics added for emphasis). We now have a firm foundation to examine a few specifics of how pest control benefits public health.
PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS. Sometimes I will ask one of my audiences, “How many of you provide pest control to your customers?” Of course, all hands go up (unless some folks are sleeping). I then build the argument that what they actually provide is peace of mind and quality of life. It may be a fine distinction, but I like it. Peace of mind and quality of life (that is what your customers are paying for) equals their mental well-being.
Customers also expect a professional job, from beginning to end, for the money they spend. When a sales professional or a technician shows up, that person is the face of the entire company so remember that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And don’t forget about consistent follow-up, after each service if possible. A simple phone call, email, text message or personal visit shows your customers that you care and want to solve their pest problems.
Remember that some types of pest infestations, such as head lice and bed bugs, may carry a social stigma factor. Impacted customers may feel embarrassed, ashamed or even disgraced. A little empathy and explanation of cause by the PMP can go a long way toward relieving anxieties.
To some customers, a few bugs may not be a big deal. Others may be entomophobic — they actually fear insects — and this is a real thing to them. Be sensitive if you encounter this situation but don’t confuse entomophobia with delusory parasitosis, which I will address later in this article.
ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS. We all have encountered customers who are a bit chemophobic. This fear of chemicals may be the result of a lack of good information. Offering a brief explanation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can be useful. Explain about thorough inspections, use of only EPA-approved products according to label, increased use of baits, exclusion, reduced-risk pesticides, etc. Granted, you will never fully convert some customers but they may rest just a bit easier.
PMPs minimize environmental impact at every opportunity. An easy and memorable way to express this is what I like to call the “Six Rights”: We use the right product at the right time in the right place with the right equipment at the right application for the right pest. Right on!
Pest control firms partner with formulators, distributors, producers, suppliers and regulators to ensure that products, equipment and methods are properly tested and evaluated, safe, environmentally friendly and effective. And remember that a violation of the label violates federal law.
ECONOMIC BENEFITS. We now know that a large percentage of asthma cases, particularly in children, are caused by pest infestations, especially cockroaches and dust mites. Effective pest control can help reduce the costs of doctor visits, medicines and lost work/school time.
Bites from wild animals are common. PMPs who specialize in wildlife control help reduce costs from emergency room/doctor visits, medicines and treatment regimens such as those given for rabies.
People aren’t the only ones who get sick. Effective pest control may help reduce the incidence, and hence the veterinary costs, of diseases such as dog heartworm, which is spread by a wide variety of mosquitoes.
Additionally, pest management services around agricultural accounts may result in increased milk and meat production, reduced annoyance from biting pests and reduced transmission of diseases, such as tularemia. The resulting decrease in veterinary costs coupled with the increased agricultural output can be extraordinary.
What about our food supply? We know that food production facilities can be shut down at a moment’s notice for any of several violations or findings. This may result in lost productivity, expensive repairs, replacement of equipment, modifications of protocols, and perhaps lost work time for employees. Proper pest management along with strict adherence to guidelines and regulations can prevent these types of episodes and save almost unlimited dollars across the country.
Unprotected food sources can become infested with a wide variety of stored product pests. In some cases, the infested product must be thrown away — there’s no choice. Again, regular inspections and proper treatments can mitigate these situations and save money for consumers, producers and distributors.
And, millions of dollars are spent each year combatting wood-destroying organisms, (plus the money that is paid out in damage claims). Again, effective pest management can be an important cost-cutting and cost-savings tool.
MEDICAL BENEFITS. We have already discussed the quality of life benefit, which can be psychological as well as medical.
Effective pest management helps reduce contamination of food sources by pathogens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year about one-sixth of Americans (48 million people) will suffer from food poisoning; 128,000 will be hospitalized; and 3,000 will die. This all results in significant economic impacts. We now know that arthropods, especially filth flies, can play a significant role in transporting pathogens from feces to food so there is no question that effective fly control helps reduce contamination of food and resulting illness.
About 30-100 people die annually from arthropod stings, the majority from bees and yellow jackets. Effective pest management, primarily the removal of nests, reduces this risk and allows clients to better enjoy the outdoors.
Finally, pest control is an essential component in the battle against vector-borne diseases (VBDs). Several VBDs, such as Lyme disease, are increasing while others (Zika virus, Bourbon virus, chikungunya, dengue, LaCrosse encephalitis) recently have invaded the United States or are emerging. And West Nile virus continues to impact about 2,000 Americans every year on average.
DELUSORY PARASITOSIS. I like to define delusory parasitosis (DP) as “the unsubstantiated belief that ‘bugs’ are infesting a person, a person’s belongings or a person’s environment.” Involvement with one of these cases can be time-consuming, frustrating and result in unwanted consequences for the PMP.
DP is the most commonly reported delusionary disorder in the United States, with about 250,000 cases per year. It is most common in the elderly. Onset often follows a major life event (a death, divorce, etc.) and those afflicted may engage in self-destructive behaviors. These folks are 100 percent certain that bugs are everywhere even though your inspection may turn up nothing. They are also very persistent and usually self-medicating with heavy doses of pesticides.
PMPs should handle cases of DP very delicately. First and foremost, confirm that a pest is actually present before ANY treatment is performed. Remember that DP is a medical issue, not a pest control issue so don’t make any promises and don’t make any diagnosis. This can get you into trouble.
There are several great reviews on DP available so if you are not familiar with this problem, I would urge you to read up on it. Eventually, almost everyone working in the pest control arena will encounter it.
FINAL THOUGHTS. I hope I’ve convinced you that pest control and public health are intricately related. I like to think of them as fraternal twins; on the outside, there may not be much similarity but on the inside, there is much commonality. Both have made great progress and undergone significant change, and both are grounded in science.
Today’s PMPs are not just baseboard sprayers; they are educators, communicators, consultants and detectives. PMPs are key contributors to the physical, mental, social and economic well-being of society.
Both pest control and public health are noble professions that are forever intertwined. Dollars are saved, lives are spared and quality of life is enhanced, every day. Those who toil in either field have much to be proud of.
No single aversion tool or method of bird or wildlife control will work long-term, particularly if the habitat is otherwise appealing and population pressures are high. The best outcomes are achieved when short-term scare tactics are followed up with habitat and behavior modification.
Residents of U.S. cities and suburbs are diverse in just about every way you can imagine, including race, ethnicity, income, education, political affiliation, family structure and species. Yes, you read that correctly. Humans and birds and wildlife are living side-by-side in greater numbers than ever before; often obliviously, usually harmoniously. But clashes do occur over noise, property damage, theft, trespassing — all the usual culprits. Managing human-wildlife conflict offers a new income stream opportunity for pest control businesses, as many have recognized, but there are challenges, too.
The traditional focus of the pest control industry has been on critters with a decided lack of charisma. Think cockroaches, termites, bed bugs, ants and other spineless creatures. Mice and rats, too, of course, but these mammals evoke little sympathy from paying customers thanks to some sticky relationship baggage dating back to a 12th century plague pandemic (never mind that rodents weren’t the true culprit — we Homo sapiens know how to hold a grudge). Lethal control methods are the industry norm, and generally accepted by a heterogeneous human population. A homeowner with a roach problem wants them dead, dead, DEAD. As soon as possible, please…like, yesterday. Whatever it takes as long as there’s no negative impact on the health and welfare of people and their pets.
However, a homeowner who does not want to rent out the attic to a raccoon, or host a free 24-hour salad bar and invite the local herd of white-tailed deer, or turn the fireplace flu into a daycare center for young chimney swifts, probably, often adamantly, does NOT want these animals killed. Research strongly suggests Americans increasingly think of wild animals, particularly birds and mammals, similarly to the way they regard their companion animals.
There are several non-lethal approaches to managing human-wildlife conflict, including: prevention (e.g., exclusion); behavior modification; habitat modification; humane population control; translocation; and our topic du jour, harassment. By “harass” what I really mean to say is “scare” those pesky wild neighbors — not to death, of course, but to depart. Vacate. Get the hell outta Dodge. This goal is achieved by adding some novel component to the environment — some new sight, sound or smell.
VISUAL STIMULI. Scare tactics that rely on visual stimuli are the most common, and the most broadly applicable. Both birds and mammals are sensitive to lights, movement and threatening images. In the case of nocturnal creatures, the solution may be as simple as floodlights directed at problem areas. Strobe lights have been used successfully in attics and other building spaces that are otherwise attractive to wildlife as denning locations but rarely used by the human residents (with the exception of the occasional disco-theme dance rave).
Balloons, with or without eyespots, can be used outdoors to protect gardens and landscaping but they must be replaced every few days as they deflate — a potentially expensive and time-consuming proposition. Flags, reflective tape, aluminum pie tins, propellers and other objects that move in a breeze are useful, easy to install and relatively inexpensive. Moreover, the wind causes their movement to be erratic, less predictable and therefore the novelty lasts longer. Unfortunately, clients may not always appreciate the new addition to their viewscape any more than the wild creatures do.
Decoys and silhouettes are another popular choice because they are readily accessible, easy to install and are not overtly intrusive to the human visual field. They rely, at least in part, on an instinctive response to a visual stimulus, such as the distinctive outline of a hawk in flight, to elicit an alarm response in the target species. A model hawk or owl placed on the roof or on a pole will immediately alert the local prey species to the presence of their age-old predator. Eventually, though, if the decoy never changes its perch, even the most timid field mouse will start to notice that this particular, decrepit and probably paralyzed raptor’s bark is way worse than its bite.
AUDITORY STIMULI. Loud noises of any kind are frightening, or at least annoying, to most animals, humans included. A radio tuned to 24-hour talk radio at loud volume and placed in a basement, attic or outbuilding may be just the thing to encourage an uninvited guest to move along (and really, can you blame them?). Sirens and pyrotechnic devices are effective, no doubt, but must be used judiciously to avoid causing explosive outbursts by the human population. For this reason, bioacoustics is an attractive area of research. Distress calls and predatory sounds get results but are less disturbing to people. Additionally, these types of sounds are meaningful to the target species at much lower decibel levels than, for example, a propane exploder. Sometimes a whisper is more noticeable than a shout.
SCENT. Many wildlife species have a strong sense of smell that helps them locate food and recognize the presence of predators, so there would seem to be potential for using scent as a scare tactic, particularly for mammals. However, there are downsides to this approach that have limited application and popularity. For example, most scents degrade quickly when exposed to the environment, so treatments must be reapplied often. Predator urines, or reasonable facsimiles, are available from various sources but are rarely a popular choice. They stink, thus the cure may be deemed worse than the disease.
FINAL THOUGHTS. The obvious problem with any bird or wildlife control technique that relies on novelty is that eventually it becomes an established part of that landscape and, as a result, no longer novel. Initially there may be an immediate improvement that is gratifying for provider and client alike, but this sense of satisfaction can be quite short-lived. No single tool or method will work long-term, particularly if the habitat is otherwise appealing and population levels and pressures are high. The best outcomes are achieved when short-term scare tactics are followed up with habitat and behavior (both human and non-human) modification.
Dr. Kieran Lindsey loves looking for wild things in all the wrong places…so she became an urban wildlife biologist. She also has way too much fun as the official Animal-Vehicle Biologist for NPR’s “Car Talk.” Read her blog at www.nextdoornature.org.
Editor’s note: Suppliers, if you offer bird control products that you would like to have highlighted in an upcoming issue, please send a press release and a high-resolution photo to firstname.lastname@example.org.
BirdBuffer is an invisible dry vapor solution that safely and humanely controls pest birds, the manufacturer says. Bird issues are not new to PMPs; there have long been many available solutions. BirdBuffer says it is an effective alternative to these products. To learn more about BirdBuffer’s patented solutions, visit the company’s website, birdbuffer.com.
Bird-X’s Stainless Steel Bird Spikes are 100 percent effective wherever placed, and are backed by a 10-year warranty, the manufacturer reports. Physical barriers are an effective way to keep birds off surfaces because they eliminate birds’ ability to perch, roost or nest. Stainless Steel Spikes won’t corrode or decay, and install easily with adhesive, nails, screws or ties, the company says. Bird-X Bird Spikes have a flexible polycarbonate base that allows for installation on curved surfaces. With four variations — narrow, regular, extra tall and extra wide — virtually all types of birds can be deterred. Even stubborn birds like seagulls will not land when extra tall spikes are in place, Bird-X reports. Pest management professionals can reduce clean-up time and labor costs with Bird-X Stainless Steel Bird Spikes, the company adds.
Chicago-based Bird-X has spent more than 50 years protecting public areas from more than 60 bird-spread transmissible diseases. A leading international brand of humane bird control solutions, Bird-X manufactures a complete line of unique bird control products, protecting the health of humans, wildlife and the environment by deterring birds from unwanted areas without harming them, the firm says.
Optical Gel from Bird Barrier differentiates itself from other tubes of squirt-on bird gels because of its “secret sauce,” the manufacturer reports. It’s a force field that keeps birds from landing on a protected surface. Birds approach a roof dotted with Optical Gel and veer away, as if scared for their lives, according to manufacturer Bird Barrier.
This product is easy to install and allows pest management professionals to enter the bird market quickly, Bird Barrier says.
Bird Barrier offers free one-hour webinars (visit v.ht/bbcert) that show exactly how and where to apply Optical Gel. Applicators/installers must clean the site and space the discs properly (not too close, not too far away from each other).
Bird Barrier also offers other bird control products, including StealthNet, Bird-Shock, BirdSlide and Dura-Spikes.
New technology developed out of the Netherlands is proving to be an effective tool in bird control. Bird Control Group says its products have been embraced by many industries as a cost-effective and safe solution, delivering common results of up to 90 percent bird reduction. The company developed an easy-to-use software tool called AVIX Connect, which allows PMPs to provide a customized proposal to effectively solve a customer’s bird problem.
Bird Control Group’s lasers leverage a bird’s innate fight or flight response by shining a laser beam across a predetermined path or structure, which in turn causes the bird to “escape” the perceived imminent danger. “The human eye sees the laser as a moving green dot, but a bird’s eye interprets this same dot as an actual beam of light or barrier, and will fly away to avoid contact,” explains Wayne Ackermann, director of business development for North America.
The company says industrial use of the lasers is ramping up in the U.S. with several operational lasers at big box stores, solar sites, commercial rooftops and industrial facilities.
Internationally, Bird Control Group has seen successful results in many industries ranging from agriculture, commercial real estate, airports, oil and gas sites, nuclear power stations and pest control, the company says.
Already registered in 49 of 50 states and Canada, OvoControl P, “birth control” for pigeons, is now available in Mexico. “Just as in the U.S. market, many commercial sites and communities in Mexico are plagued with pigeons,” said Erick Wolf, CEO of Innolytics, maker of OvoControl. “More than anything, as the popularity of OvoControl has grown, requests for the product have also increased in Mexico.”
Mexico-based ECONTROL, a part of Mylva, has been named the distributor of OvoControl P for the Mexico market. Benjamin Gómez, managing director of ECONTROL, commented, “We plan to focus on stored grain facilities, tourism and the export economy. The critical importance of food safety in Mexico cannot be overstated and pigeons can represent serious risks. Our pest control customers and their clients are keenly interested in innovative options to control the pigeon population safely and humanely. OvoControl meets these criteria and fits well with ECONTROL’s portfolio.”
Gómez added, “OvoControl works like an IGR, but for birds instead of insects. We believe that birth control for pigeons is a valuable addition to the portfolio of bird control tools that can be used in Mexico.”
OvoControl is a ready-to-use bait, which is dispensed on flat rooftops with an automatic feeder. Innolytics says this effective and humane technology is particularly useful for managing flocks of pigeons in larger areas without having to use extreme solutions and their associated risks.
Established in 1950, Nixalite of America invented and patented the world’s first bird spike. Today, Nixalite offers nine different bird spike models designed for different applications, infestation levels and budgets. All of the bird spikes manufactured by Nixalite are constructed of 100 percent high-grade stainless steel made in the United States. Options for the Nixalite Spikes include 2- or 4-foot lengths, sharp or blunt tip spikes, powder coat colors and various fastening choices.
Other bird control products available from Nixalite include nine different types of bird netting, Bird Zap Shock Track, FliteLine, exclusion devices, chemical repellents, bird traps, and sound and visual bird deterrents. Visit www.nixalite.com to see their complete bird control product line and online automated estimating applications.
Nixalite of America is a fourth-generation, family-owned full service company offering free planning and estimating services. Nixalite’s 24,000-square-foot manufacturing and executive facilities are located in East Moline, Ill. This is where the hand- built Nixalite machines turn high-grade stainless steel wire and strip into a bird and climbing animal control system. At Nixalite all pest management customers qualify for wholesale pricing.
Bird Banisher deters woodpeckers and other pest birds away from homes and orchards. According to manufacturer Viking Product Supply, it is built with high-quality components to ensure motion even with the slightest wind speed. Bird Banisher can be used on residential and commercial properties and is built for longevity, providing consistent protection. Bird Banisher says it uses high-quality products such as stainless steel ball bearing swivels for maximum movement in all wind conditions, powder-coated galvanized steel rods and high-performance holographic components.
Every time the phone rings and the caller on the other end asks if we take care of birds, it causes me to focus. Although all raccoon-trapping jobs have their peculiarities, in many ways they are essentially the same. Bird complaints, I’ve come to find, are never the same. Unlike a raccoon-trapping job, you can’t have a standard fee that you charge. Bird jobs require work that is out of the ordinary for me, although I do a lot of them!
On a good day, the caller will simply have a bird in their basement they need captured. Conversely, the next bird call that comes in may be to remove one of thousands of federally protected birds nesting on the rooftop of a local business. Each job is a winner, although one requires “jumping through many more hoops” and man-hours than the other.
A WIDE RANGE OF JOBS. Looking at the bird removal jobs that I took on in 2018, I see everything from a $200 bird removal job to a multi-thousand-dollar contract. If you compared both jobs financially, it’s obvious that the multi-thousand-dollar job is the preferable one. Comparing the two when it comes to profits, however, tells me that I’d much rather take on many small jobs instead of one or two large jobs. The large jobs require many man-hours of work. They require special equipment; supplies from a company that specializes in bird exclusion products; inspections; and then bids and quotes before the job can be shopped. After landing the job, we need to completely focus on it while our other accounts take a back seat. This is not meant to discourage anyone from taking on these big jobs. You just have to remember to factor into the price all the business that you cannot do while your resources are focused on the big contracts.
My favorite nuisance bird call is from a homeowner that has birds entering their house through the bathroom exhaust fan vent. I normally quote the prices of these jobs over the phone. These birds are generally European starlings.
Starlings have the uncanny ability to fly up to a bathroom vent and flip open the little flappers with a quick flick of their beak. Once inside the ductwork, they will find the perfect place to build a nest and raise their young.
European starlings lay eggs once per year near the beginning of spring. Each nesting results in four to seven eggs. The male starling starts the nest and lures in a female with his impressive building skills. Together, they will continue to improve the nest by bringing in straw, grass, yarn, and any other items they can find that will improve their living quarters.
The longer the client waits to call about this problem, the better it is for my bottom line, as the nesting material will eventually either plug the ductwork entirely or burst the ductwork and allow the birds total access to the attic. It is not uncommon in these situations to remove two, three, or even four contractor-sized garbage bags of nesting material from the attic.
The outside work is generally the fastest. These jobs usually call for a tall ladder as most of these types of calls are for birds entering a vent in a two-story house.
DEALING WITH DUCTWORK. On many jobs, we find the small little flappers missing from the vent. Every once in a while we will find these single flappers on the ground. Occasionally, we take the flappers from a new vent and simply swap them into the old vent. Many times, however, we find the vents in such bad shape that they need to be replaced. This is an easy job, but it requires a little work from the attic first. The new vent has a minimal cost and takes little time to install once the damaged vent has been removed. You’re certainly going to want to sell a vent guard to prevent this situation from happening again. It’s an easy sell, as there’s not a single homeowner that wants to incur this problem and expense again. Make sure that you’re prepared to install the vent guard when the vent replacement is finished. Being prepared saves you additional trips up and down the ladder.
While doing the ladder work, it’s wise to have a spray bottle (filled with a mild cleaner) on your tool belt. Birds normally have defecated on the siding. This will take a little scrubbing, but make your finished job look much better. Although you may not think about it, most homeowners don’t hesitate to pay a little more for this service, so don’t forget to sell it.
If there were adult birds in the ductwork when you disconnected it from the attic, they usually exit their tubular home at that time. A good shake of the flexible ductwork before the disconnection sends them out into the bright blue sky. While you are doing your ladder work, you can be assured that “Mr. or Mrs. Starling” were watching you, especially if there are babies in the nest or a clutch of eggs. When you make your way into the attic, there should be no birds flying around inside, but scan the attic just to be sure. The last thing you want is a callback because the client hears a bird above their heads!
Flexible ducting comes packaged in 25-foot rolls. Our normal procedure is to remove the entire duct and replace it with brand new duct. The flexible ductwork will be full of nesting material, ectoparasites, bird droppings, cracked eggs, whole eggs, and possibly live young birds that cannot fly. One of the items that you will want in the attic is contractor-sized garbage bags. Dragging this mess down the scuttle hole and through the client’s home is not something we ever want to do. To disconnect the old ductwork, we usually take a small tool bag with us into the attic. I’ve seen the end of the ducts taped to the exhaust fan, clamped onto the exhaust fan, and also zip tied to the fan. This goes for the vent side too. A few times we’ll see sheet metal screws in use, so a good screwdriver is a must in our tool bag along with a pair of tin snips, some zip ties and a fresh roll of duct tape. You should consider using a headlamp for this work in order to keep your hands free. We also light the attic with a larger light right at the scuttle hole. If your headlamp dies or comes up missing in action, you’ll still be able to see to get out safely.
Once you have both ends of the ductwork free, it all goes in the garbage bag. Obviously, the ends should be held upright until they are in the bag, or you run the risk of performing a cleanup that wasn’t on the schedule.
The flexible ductwork will have to be cut to length and it usually has a stiff wire encircling it for stability. Your tin snips will make light work of this ductwork. Attach the new ductwork at both ends and your job could be done. I say “could” because most homes have more than one exhaust vent. Check the others for additional revenue opportunities! At the very least, any other vent should be excluded with a vent cover. Just like the offending vent with the birds, this is an easy sell and a quick install from the outside. You’re performing a service that the client either can’t do or doesn’t want to do, so charge accordingly.
Many times the birds will have packed the flexible ductwork so full of nesting materials that it will have burst open, giving the birds free access into the attic. If this is the case, there’s a good chance that there will be birds in the attic. It will be difficult to catch them as they certainly have the advantage. The best bet in this situation is to open a vent to the outside. The birds will be in panic mode and, when disturbed, will fly to the light. When they exit, reconnect the vent. There’s time and effort involved in this, so be sure to charge for bird removal.
CLEAN AND SANITIZE. The reason people don’t want birds in their attic is because birds are “dirty.” They defecate all over, leave foul-smelling odors, and harbor ectoparasites. Cleaning and odor control is part of the job that can (and should) be sold. Most homeowners have no desire to go into an attic, but pictures really sell the job. Obviously, nobody wants bird mites or other “bugs” in their home. Taking away the birds doesn’t mean that you have removed the bird mites. Soon enough, they may start searching elsewhere in the house for their next blood meal. Treating a home for ectoparasites brought in by birds can be the icing on the cake and another nice addition to the income stream.
While I’m speaking about all the reasons to clean up after birds have invaded an attic, let’s not forget our own health. It’s so easy to take the shortcut and pop into an attic without the proper personal protection equipment (PPE), but please don’t. Don’t turn your client’s emergency into your emergency. Suiting up in a Tyvek suit and adding some gloves and a respirator is so easy. Histoplasmosis is a very real threat to us. The airborne spores can cause a respiratory infection so bad that you can be hospitalized. In 1997, singer Bob Dylan had an experience with histoplasmosis. After he was finally released from the hospital and given a prognosis of a full recovery in four to six weeks, he said that he was so sick that he “really thought that I’d be seeing Elvis soon.”
For the little time that it takes to don our PPEs, it’s just not worth the risk to our own health! If I haven’t convinced you yet, please consider that attics are filled with fiberglass insulation. The dangers of breathing these fiberglass fibers is a subject that could use its own article! If the attic has other types of insulation, the particulate matter you stir up will cause numerous problems. Let’s not forget that all sorts of chemicals have probably been applied here. There will be no notice. Oh, and every attic that has had mice will have mouse droppings and dried urine. Wearing the PPE shields us from a whole host of dangers lurking in that attic.
LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES. Once the bird removal job is done, I challenge you to look around at the neighboring houses. Most homes in an area are built in the same style — and where you find one nest of starlings, you will find others. Look for the white streaks on neighbors’ siding. Look for bathroom vents missing the little flappers. There have been many times we have completed a job at one house and then, 20 minutes later, our ladders are set up on the house across the street! It’s really easy to sell the job by knocking on the door and explaining what you just did for Mrs. Kelly across the street. For example, saying, “I see that you have the same problem,” and then showing them the mess. Sometimes they know that birds are in there; most times they do not. Your knowledge of bird habits, dangers, and diseases will assure the homeowner that it’s the right thing to do — and it is!
Although my business provides bird removal services, this work is just a fraction of the pie; however, it’s a slice of the pie that I do not want to lose. Not many companies advertise for bird removal services. Don’t forget to include it in your marketing plans. I can’t tell you how many people who call are thrilled that they found someone that performs the service. In my opening line of this article, I mentioned a client asking if we get birds out of houses. That tells me that the client either didn’t read enough when looking for me, or that I have more work to do in telling the world that I want to help them get birds out of their house. Every call is a learning opportunity to better market our services.
If you don’t currently perform bird removal services, it is a good money-maker. I encourage you to get your feet wet. There are no two jobs that are exactly alike, and each one will take a little time and effort to come up with the right price. Your bottom line will see the benefit of adding this line of work to your service offerings.
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