Controlling Nuisance Birds

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Birds are a welcome sight in many settings both for their beauty and for being a predator of pesky, disease-carrying insects. “I have had several nests of birds in the barn loft for years with no problems. I am glad to share space with them and hope they eat bugs up there,” said Anne Brzezicki, an AQHA Professional Horseman from Tennessee.

The problem is that some birds are not satisfied with a peaceful coexistence. They pilfer expensive insulation for nesting materials and steal grain for meals. “We have had instances in the pasture when a large flock of birds scares horses away from their feed pans and eat the grain,” she added.

In some cases the birds become fiercely protective of their new home, a.k.a. your barn, and attack people, horses and cats who visit or live in the stable. “They dive-bomb people, horses and cats while we are working,” she said. “We have even had Starlings and Mockingbirds dive-bomb riders and horses when they were riding, scaring both the riders and the horses.”

Controlling nuisance birds is likely something you have to deal with, unless you consider yourself lucky like trainer Jill Newcomb of Jill Newcomb Performance Horses in San Diego, California, who said, “I am so lucky I don’t have a bird problem. I don’t know of any barns near me with me with bird problems.”

Common Controls

Once a flock of birds moves into your stable it can be difficult to get rid of them. There are a wide variety of techniques that can be used, some with more success than others. In most cases, they are most effective when used in combination.

Visual deterrents are one option. They include fake predators such as plastic owls, reflective tape, even traditional scarecrows fall into this category. Unfortunately, birds quickly adjust to these items and after a period of time are no longer intimidated by them.

Noise makers are another alternative. Commonly called bird bangers, cannons or pyrotechnics, these devices create a loud, thunder-clap like noise that scares birds away. As with the visual deterrents, birds can become used to the frightening device. Using multiple devices and regularly changing the location can help prolong their effects, but they are not a viable long-term solution. Before purchasing one of these devices find out if you are able to use it or if a professional is required. Also keep in mind that these noise-makers might cause more problems with your horses and horse owners than the birds!

Repellents are a third control technique. Liquid, granular and adhesive repellents discourage birds from congregating in areas where the repellent is applied. The repellent typically offers birds a bad taste when they ingest it to persuade them to stay away. A repellent should be used carefully as it can have unintended consequences for protected birds that accidentally come in contact with it.

Professional pest control companies may be able to offer additional advice or be able to perform specific services that potentially require permits. “We did consult with a company and did not find much help,” Brzezicki said. “Eliminating their nests all together was the only technique that has worked for us.”

Removal and/or relocation of the birds is the only guaranteed method for ridding your barn of birds. Eliminating areas where birds can roost, destroying nests and repairing any holes in the barn’s structure eliminate access to nesting areas. In cases of severe infestations, extermination may be the only option.

Bird Identification

Before taking action to relocate or remove a bird or its nest from your stable, it’s important to know which species of bird you are dealing with. Many species are federally protected by The Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Enacted in 1918, this provision made it unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill or sell birds protected under the act. In addition to federal protection, select species may be protected under state regulations. 

Birds classified as non-native to the United States do not qualify for protection under this act, offering additional options for control. Learning to identify and understanding the characteristics of these birds can help you find strategies for dealing with them in your stable. Three of the most common birds considered a nuisance around the barn–the European Starling, the House Sparrow and the Pigeon or Rock Pigeon–are not protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and can be controlled without a permit.


Starlings first appeared in the United States in the late 1890s, when they were intentionally introduced into New York. The bird stands are 8-9″ tall and have a wingspan of 12-16″. During the winter months, their dark feathers have white or cream spots and their bill is green. In the summer, their bill turns yellow and their black feathers take on an iridescent green or purple tint.

While Starlings eat cutworms and Japanese beetles, their aggressiveness and ability to cause damage often override their ecological benefits. The birds quickly become acclimated to visual or auditory frightening devices. Ledge protectors, which are metal strips with spikes, can be effective in preventing the birds from roosting. However, the strip must be wide enough and long enough to fill the entire ledge.

“The use of plastic or rubber strips hung in the doorways of farm buildings has been shown to be effective in keeping them out of barns, the strips should be 10″ wide and hung with 2″ gaps in between each strip,” noted the Illinois Extension website.

The best method for controlling starlings is to prevent access to the faculty. Seal off any holes that may exist in the barn’s exterior and remove nests as soon as they are found.

“We shot the offending birds, cleaned out the nests in the arena ceiling and we make sure to destroy any nests as soon as they start building them,” said Brzezicki. She found like many barn owners that it is easier to keep the birds out at the onset than to try and evict them once they have established a nest.


Considered a large dove, the pigeon, was introduced to the U.S. In the 1600s. The gray bird has distinguishing wing bands with color variations that range from bluish and purplish to chestnut, white and tan. 

Pigeons tend to be more destructive than aggressive. “They tear and pick out the roof insulation and spread it all over the place,” Brzezicki said. “Even the bird-proof insulation, which I paid a lot extra for, didn’t work.” Not only does the destruction leave the ceiling looking shabby and cause stray pieces to fall off every now and then, it affects the ability to properly insulate the structure.

This bird travels in flocks of 10-30 birds, which results in large amounts of droppings that can damage the paint on buildings and cars, kill vegetation and pose a health hazard to humans. In urban settings, people often feed pigeons; however, that only encourages the flock to stay. The most effective method for getting rid of pigeons is to remove access to food and water, especially standing pools of water, and eliminating nesting or roosting sites.

House Sparrow

The house sparrow also prefers to live among a flock. Only six inches in length, the sparrow can fit through holes as small as 3/4″. The bird was first introduced in the mid-1860s and experienced a rapid population increase. 

The male sparrow has a gray crown and white patches on the feathers. They also have a black throat and a rusty-brown back. Females are predominantly grayish-brown with black and fawn colored streaks and buff eye-liner. 

The best strategy for limiting the sparrow population in your barn is to prevent them from entering in the first place. Repair any small holes, install ledge protectors and eliminate areas for roosting. Sparrows are persistent, they will immediately begin rebuilding a nest if it has been destroyed. 

Prevention is the Best Control

Creating an environment around that barn that is unfriendly to birds is the best method of control available. Learn what types of birds are most common in your area and the type of feed and habitat they prefer. Then reduce access to both of those items to discourage them from moving into your barn. 

Be diligent about removing nests and encouraging the birds to relocate to another home. Repair any holes that may offer a nesting site and eliminate roosting locations. If you need a sign on the side of the barn, choose a flat sign that does not offer a ledge large enough for roosting. Hiring a professional, purchasing noise makers and installing visual frighteners are all options that can help, but might only provide short-term solutions. 

While birds can naturally control insect populations, the destruction and aggravation certain species of birds cause within your barn outweighs the potential benefits. “When they interfere with our people and our horses, they have to go,” Brzezicki concluded.