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Habitat Magazine Insider Guide



When Pigeons Come Home to Roost

Pigeons. Some New Yorkers call them flying rats. Others fondly note that pigeons are actually rock doves. Whatever you call them, pigeons are, at best, a nuisance for co-ops and condos and, at worst, a health risk. But is there anything you can do to keep them from making your building their home?

Pigeons and other birds cause a wide variety of problems. They are noisy, notes Irwin H. Cohen, president of A. Michael Tyler Realty, a real estate brokerage and property management firm, and not everyone appreciates birds cooing and chirping outside the windows. Birds can also set off sensitive – and loud – roof alarms. In fact, one building Cohen manages had to shut down its roof alarm because pigeons kept setting it off.

In addition, birds may roost on a building’s ledges, windowsills, cornices, fire escapes, and other areas, leaving droppings that can ruin the building’s appearance. Joshua Uhl, a member of a 22-unit co-op board in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, says that pigeon droppings have stained the awnings of the building’s two commercial spaces. These damaged awnings detract from an “otherwise well-maintained block,” he notes.

Richard Cappa, owner of Liberty Pest Control, stresses that bird droppings aren’t just an aesthetic issue. They can erode a building’s façade, which can be expensive to restore, notes Jeffrey Eisenberg, president of Pest Away Exterminating. And the uric acid in bird droppings eats away paint and can discolor a building, adds David Kane, president of Bye Bye Birdie, a pest control company specializing in bird-related problems.

However, the most serious challenge posed by droppings is the diseases they can carry – even though that element has gotten “little press over the years,” says Eisenberg. There are many such diseases, including salmonella, Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and histoplasmosis – this last caused by inhaling spores from a fungus that grows in pigeon droppings. According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the symptoms of histoplasmosis include fatigue, fever, and chest pains. Most people exposed to the fungus don’t develop any symptoms, but those with compromised immune systems might.

Residents are typically exposed to bird droppings from nests built near windows. Frank Lozada, an assistant superintendent at an Upper West Side co-op, says that pigeon nests under air conditioner units are his building’s biggest bird-related problem. If the A/C’s vents are open, it draws “dried fecal matter” from the nest into the apartment, where the resident may then inhale it, he explains.

Nests can also be the source for bird mites, which feed on pigeons, observes Eisenberg. When pigeons leave their nests, the bird mites have nothing to feed on, so they enter apartments and feed on the residents, explains Kane. Bites from mites are often misdiagnosed as coming from fleas or bed bugs.

To reduce or eliminate such problems at your building you must prevent birds, particularly pigeons, from getting comfortable there. “It’s all about prevention,” says Eisenberg. Kane agrees, noting that once pigeons nest at your property, they become attached to that location and then it is difficult to get rid of them.

There are some simple things that co-ops and condos can do to keep birds from their buildings. For example, Kane suggests that you eliminate food sources by making sure garbage is cleared, and that the sidewalks and curbs near the building are swept clean. He also recommends that you bar residents from feeding birds at the building, since that will encourage them to come back. In effect, your building becomes “their favorite deli.” He adds that there is a sanitation law banning such feeding, but it is rarely enforced.

You should block up the areas under A/C units so birds can’t nest there, says Cappa. He recommends using any material that won’t be affected by weather, looks good, and doesn’t stain, such as wood or steel wool. Lozada adds that he’s used wire mesh and bricks to block those areas. Be sure to fix any holes in the A/C units themselves since birds have been known to build nests inside them.

To keep our feathered friends from roosting or sleeping on your building’s windowsills and ledges, use a product that deters them from landing. For example, spike strips are made of plastic or aluminum points or Xs that make it difficult for birds to land, explains Cohen. But, while effective, he notes that spike strips are unattractive.

Post and wire systems aren’t as effective as spike strips, but they’re also less unsightly, says Eisenberg. In a post-and-wire system, wires are arrayed at different heights across a sill or ledge, creating an unstable landing or perching platform, Kane explains. Pigeons, in particular, prefer a solid landing base – that’s why you don’t typically see them perched on thin wires or branches, he notes.

For an even more aesthetic option, try electronic strips that give birds a mild shock when they land, but don’t hurt or kill them. Such strips are very effective and low profile, but they’re also expensive, says Eisenberg. You also might not be able to use them in certain areas, like the roof, where people could come into contact with them, adds Cohen.

Netting is a very good way to keep birds out of cornices and airshafts because it totally excludes birds from an area, explains Kane. Cohen notes that, in his experience, netting is “very, very effective.” It’s not expensive either, and, if you use the “good stuff,” it can last for years.
You could try using statues of owls – a bird of prey that feeds on pigeons – but they only work temporarily, if at all. Eisenberg calls the statues “gimmicks,” and Cohen says they’re “silly.” And while “sonic booms” or other noise machines can be effective, they must be set at a very loud level to work and so aren’t suited for use in residential areas.

You could also put sticky gel on ledges and other areas where birds like to roost. The gel gets on the birds’ feet, which they don’t like. But both Eisenberg and Kane agree that gel, while cheap, is only a temporary solution and can create other problems. Because gels are generally petroleum-based, they melt in the sun, which “permanently stains the building,” says Eisenberg. The gel eventually gets dirty and becomes ineffective, Kane points out. Plus, it’s hard – and expensive – to install other products like spike or electronic strips over the gel once it stops working.

Cappa warns that you shouldn’t even consider poisoning birds, because it’s illegal. It’s also illegal in New York to use a substance called Avitrol. Before it was banned, birds would eat Avitrol and become “drunk or disoriented,” says Cohen. The idea was that they would lose their homing instinct and move to another area, he explains. But Avitrol also killed many birds, so it was outlawed five years ago.

Which method or product you should use at your co-op or condo will depend on a number of factors, including the type of bird problem, the location of and access to the problem areas, the size of the bird population, and, of course, the cost. Your property manager will suggest the viable options for your building and then present those to the board for a final decision. Your board should be involved in addressing any bird-related problems, because the solution will usually affect the building’s exterior. Also, you must ensure that shareholders and unit-owners don’t thwart efforts to address the issue, he adds. Unless everyone agrees to, say, have electronic strips installed on their window sills, the birds will simply avoid those sills with the strips and relocate to sills without them – and your building will continue to be a bird’s nest of headaches.

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