Some Days This Job Is for the Birds

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a colleague who is the facility manager for a large business park, which is a mixed-use development that houses commercial, social service and entertainment tenants. It was created by adaptively reusing the buildings that were part of a former major brewery. One of the buildings houses one of our middle schools, serving almost 800 students. My colleague was calling to complain about sea gulls that were making numerous deposits on the tenants and their automobiles. He indicated that this was our problem to correct since the gulls were using our building as home. I told him that we had never experienced a problem with gulls in the 13 years we had been in the complex but would look into it and get back to him.

After his call, I visited our manager of Operations Services to see if he was aware of the issue. Much to my surprise, he said the local school building engineer had found the situation during his April quarterly check of the roof, air intakes and fans, and that it didn’t exist in his check at the end of November. A visit by our pest management and environmental staff found hundreds and hundreds of birds and their nests in what they described as a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. They also found that the birds were not shy about displaying their displeasure about our presence in their new home.

How did this happen? Well, it seems my colleague was having some problems on the buildings he manages and had spent tens of thousands of dollars on exclusion techniques for those facilities. This, of course, resulted in all of the birds being diverted to our building through the winter. And while he solved his problem, his uncoordinated effort had only relocated the problem to us, thus creating the complaints he was now receiving from his tenants. In addition, his tenants had exacerbated the problem by feeding the birds, thus making them feel even more at home.

Knowing that this number of birds and their deposits posed a serious health hazard to our students, our pest crew and environmental staff were prepared to destroy the nests and aggressively pursue exclusion techniques on the birds. Wrong! It seems sea gulls are a protected species, and permits are required to pursue these techniques. As such, we next attempted to contact our state Department of Natural Resources to begin the process. After several weeks of telephone tag, we ultimately were told that because the nests contained eggs, we needed to work with the federal authorities to obtain the permit, which, of course, brought tears (of joy?) to our eyes.

We then eagerly called the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Management Division, to begin the permit process, knowing the high level of customer service we would receive for our students. Several weeks of unanswered phone calls later, we finally spoke to a department representative who, more than anything else in the whole world, wanted to help the children instead of the folks from the ten o’clock news.

We will, at long last, meet with the USDA next week to take the first step to resolve our problem and hopefully be able to expeditiously rid ourselves of this nuisance. We have received a permit from the Department of Natural Resources to apply the non-lethal avicide repellant Avipel to our roof structures and will be receiving a proposal from a local pest management firm to install netting on the roof.

While I have taken a light-hearted look at a very serious problem, following are several tips for others to consider.

1. Don’t feed any type of bird. It only encourages them to stay in a particular area and attracts others.

2. Involve a professional pest control firm to assist you in this effort. These firms have specialized techniques and personnel unique to bird problems.

3. Inspect your facilities often to find problems before they become too big. 4. Make sure that you get all permits prior to moving ahead, and understand it probably will take some time to do so.

I have not spoken with my colleague lately, but I am sure he’ll be calling to find out where we are. Other than telling him we’re moving ahead, the only other thing I could tell him would be that old saying“No good deed goes unpunished.”