The USA is home to quite the weird and wonderful assortment of flying nuisance animals, including the European starling, house sparrows, and pigeons. For the most part, these birds are wonderful to have array, singing a glorious song and brightening up the day.
Unfortunately, they're also rather problematic to have around.
Also known as the common starling, the European starling is a non-native pest in North America, and because of their non-native status, they have no natural predators; nothing to keep them from breeding out of control. Because of this, they are not covered by the same bird protection treaty that other native birds to the USA are, though we do recommend that you check local advice before taking any action.
Starlings are around the same size as a blackbird, with dark feathers that have a beautiful, iridescent sheen. Coloration will change throughout the seasons, depending on whether the bird is breeding or not breeding, with spots often seen on those that are not breeding.
House sparrows, also known as just sparrows, are smaller birds, often overlooked, and found across almost all of the United States.
Pigeons, also known as rock or common pigeons, are just as prolific, larger than the other two species and classically ‘pigeon-coloured': grey, white and black, with often iridescent edges and feathers.
Sparrows have a lifespan of around 3 years, and the same can be said for starlings. Pigeons, on the other hand, can live for double that with the right conditions.
Pigeons are monogamous, breeding with the same partner up to 6 times in one year, with 1 or 2 eggs in each. It is only 6 or 7 months until those newborns are old enough and sexually mature, so you can understand how pigeon populations soon grow out of control.
Starlings tend to breed in the spring, around April, May, and June, laying around 5 to 8 eggs, and they will take just 2 weeks to hatch. If the first hatching is successful and happens early enough, starlings will have a second breeding season in the same year. The young chicks become independent of parents and the nest after about 6 to 8 weeks.
Sparrows are prolific breeders, with as many as 4 clutches of eggs in a year. It is more common for 2 or 3 clutches of eggs to be laid, following quite a lengthy ‘breeding season' that can last from early April right through until late in August. Just as with starlings, young sparrows are independent from around 6 to 8 weeks of age, but the younger generation tends to flock together, at least for a short period of time.
Starlings, sparrows, and pigeons are now birds that you will commonly find in residential areas, rather than more wild ones. They are drawn to human habitats, mostly for the food they offer, but also for the vast amounts of sheltered spots that offer up great nesting sites. Attics and roofs, for example, are not commonly inspected or frequented by the human inhabitants of the building, so most bird species can lay eggs and rear young with very little interruption from anything around.
Birds eat a variety of foods including nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and even insects, worms, and bugs. Birds are actually very beneficial to have in your back garden because they eat a lot of insects that would otherwise pose pest problems.
Pigeons are one of the most problematic species of bird, with a large number of disease threats linked to them, and the droppings of all birds are corrosive in nature and unsightly. If not cleared away, or if enough of the droppings build up, they can stain and discolor the materials and surfaces they come into contact with, and they can also start to ‘burn' their way through.
A problem that most property owners don't think of is the effect birds have on the guttering system of homes. Feathers, nesting material, and debris that has been carried by the birds can build up in the gutter, causing standing water. This attracts insects, causes water damage to home siding and other structures, and can even cause total or partial collapse of the guttering system, often requiring lengthy and costly repairs.
There are a vast assortment of techniques you can use to keep birds at bay. Bird netting and strip spikes, for example, can be purchased in different sizes to accommodate different birds. Larger birds like pigeons require larger netting types, whereas smaller birds can easily fly through the holes of pigeon netting, or get tangled up in the netting and become injured and/or due.
As well as bird netting and strip spikes, there are also electric shock tracks, bird tape, dummies and decoys, chemical fogging, bird sound imitation devices, and other approaches you could take, all with varying degrees of success. We personally don't recommend that you attempt to control birds (or other nuisance wildlife) with repellents. It rarely works, and the costs can far outweigh the benefits of them, especially after prolonged or repeated use.
Professionals use birds using a number of different approaches, many of which we discussed previously: netting, spike strips, electric shock tracks, and even spider-style devices that bend and wave with the wind. The right approach to take will depend very much on the bird species in question, and the size of it, alongside the type of material that needs protecting. The idea is to make the building as landing or roosting-proof as possible, providing physical barriers that the birds can't overcome. After a period of the time, the birds will soon learn that your property has nothing to offer them and will likely move on.
Trapping of birds is a method that rarely works, and we don't use poisons or similar methods in any kind of animal control.
1 - During both World War I and II, pigeons were used as a form of communication, transporting messages from different US military groups and organizations.
2 - Sparrows can be very aggressive when it comes to defending their nests, and it is actually quite common for sparrows to ‘bully' other birds away from their nests so that they can take them over.
3 - Starlings are actually quite a loud, boisterous, and social bird, often seen flocking with, or in close proximity to, other bird species, including blackbirds.
To learn more about pigeons, see: