Got a Bird in the Plant?

Features - Pest Control

How to Get it Out and Keep Birds Out

February 12, 2015

Preventing birds from getting into a food or beverage processing plant is a critical component of pest management and can be accomplished through various means such as sealing of cracks and gaps, keeping doors closed, and protecting the exterior environment.

But food plants can be very attractive to these intelligent avian creatures, so what do you do when a bird does manage to get into your plant and decide to take up residence?

Birds can harbor more than 40 types of parasites and internally host over 60 types of infectious diseases, said Bird B Gone Owner and CEO Bruce Donoho. “If birds do get in your plant despite your preventive efforts, a first thing to do is to check all doors and entry points to prevent additional birds from entering.”

The bird you see may not be the only one that got in, or it may be the lead bird of a flock which others will be looking to follow, said Bird Barrier President Cameron Riddell. Because of this, it is important to determine how the bird got in, what attracted it, how long it has been in the building, where it has or will get its nourishment, and if there are more than one. “Walk around and make observations. Take notes and figure out what is going on,” he said. Information gathering is another critical first step in determining how serious the issue is and what needs to be done.

The gravity of the situation and need for immediate action will be determined, in part, by the location and actions of the bird. If it is found that the bird is or has been in a food production area and food has, or may have, been compromised, production should be stopped immediately, said Nixalite President Cory Gellerstedt.

Additionally, said Meridian Wildlife Services President David Brugh, “if there is significant risk of contamination, production may need to be stopped until the issue is solved.”

Evicting the Bird.

There are a number of methods that can be used to capture, trap, or get a bird out of the facility by plant personnel or a pest control professional, with the selection dependent on the seriousness of the problem, the skill or knowledge of plant personnel in bird management, and the species and location of the bird(s). In all cases, “birds should be removed as soon as possible,” Donoho said. To keep more from coming in, he added, “It is also very important to remove any birds from nesting, roosting, and landing sites on the exterior of the building/facility.”

Flushing or scaring the birds out of the plant with harassment techniques can be an effective method of evicting the birds, Gellerstedt said. Techniques can include bird excluders, lasers, audible devices that produce loud predator or harassment sounds, and repellent fogs.

Flushing birds out can be most effective in smaller facilities, areas with drop ceilings, and when birds are actively trying to get out near doors or windows, Brugh said. When applicable, this is the first method that facility management should attempt. However, he added, a maximum time limit should be set, most commonly 24 to 48 hours, although the timeframe also will depend on the nature of the facility and location of the bird. “Once this time frame has passed, they need to seek a solution through an outside vendor that will quickly and safely remove the bird,” he said.

Nets are one of the most commonly used techniques of pest control professionals, Riddell said. One type is the mist net made of an extremely fine fiber that cannot be seen by birds.The net is about eight feet long by 40 feet wide held by two long poles; it is placed up into the ceiling area where the bird is resting or roosting. A noise or other technique is used to startle the bird and make it fly—straight into the netting, where it is trapped.

The Role of Sanitary Design in Pest Management

Sanitary design of a food or beverage processing plant can help to reduce the potential of contamination by reducing the number of areas where bacteria and pests can harbor. As defined by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), sanitary design is “the application of design techniques which allow the timely and effective cleaning of the entire manufacturing asset” for the purpose of improving cleanability, access for cleaning and inspection, and consistency of cleaning.

As such, sanitary design can provide the foundation for a successful pest management program, not only reducing harborage areas, but also reducing the availability of food and water for pests. “The more hostile an environment we can provide through proper design, the more successful our pest management programs will be in controlling pests, said McCloud Services Technical Director Pat Hottel. “A building which is tightly constructed will help exclude pests from entering and harboring in cracks and crevices and voids inside the facility. A building which is built to facilitate cleaning will provide sanitation crews with assistance in removing food sources for pests. Lastly, it can aid in early detection by permitting easy inspection.”

Following are some explanations of the role sanitary design plays in pest management and recommendations for particular areas.

• Roof. “Roofs can sometimes be overlooked for their role in pest access,” Hottel said. But it is important to monitor and check for pest access points and attractants on the roof. Gravel roofs can be particularly problematic where processing of flour and sugar are performed, because system malfunctions can cause product spills. If these are allowed to accumulate, birds (as well as stored product pests, yellow jackets, and rodents) can be attracted to these areas. A food facility roof should be constructed so as to allow for cleaning and proper drainage.

• Drains. One of the most critical areas in food plants are the drains, particularly in wet processing facilities where small flies and larger cockroaches can access the structure through the drain or breed in the organic material build up. Thus, drains need to be accessible for cleaning, and floor and channel drains must have the proper pitch for drainage. “Channel drains, in particular, can be challenging due to their size and maintenance requirements,” Hottel said.

• Ceiling. False ceilings in dry processing facilities can cause cleaning challenges, thus an open, more accessible ceiling is preferred. Not only do the panel surfaces add to the amount of area to be cleaned, but they must be dismantled for cleaning access to pipes and ledges above. “If a false ceiling must be used, select panels based on removability and ability to clean,” she said. “Plastic panels will be easier to clean than a fiberboard-based tile but may be more challenging to remove.”

• Walls. Because corrugated walls are very difficult to maintain and keep sealed, especially if damaged, poured concrete is preferred, Hotel said. Metal walls with laid insulation which has a plastic or metallic film cover are the worst option as they provide areas for rodents to tunnel and harbor. 

• Warehouse racks. “Rack legs in warehouses can be a problem and, unfortunately, I have not found a manufacturer of rack leg bases which are designed for pest prevention and cleaning,” Hottel said. However, some are better than others. When selecting a rack leg, consider how it may get cleaned, especially in areas where dry powdery products will be stored. Vacuums may be needed and sufficient electrical outlets should be planned for the proper cleaning of these areas, she said.

• Air flow and proper pressure. The building should be designed so that air flow is outwardly positive. If a building is built with negative air flow or airflow becomes negative over time due to changes in the building design, flying insects can become a major issue. So, Hottel said, “If a building has a negative airflow issue, doors and paths from the exterior should be monitored and the appropriate devices used to help capture flying insects which may enter.” The use of vestibules to help isolate pests in a negative air flow situation can be another option.

Other common methods of bird removal include:

  • Bird hazers that deploy a fog of methyl anthranilate bird repellent, which irritates a bird’s mucous membranes when it flies through it, Donoho said. “Completely harmless to birds, pets and people, birds associate the repellent with the location and avoid the area.” However, he added, “the bird-hazing systems can be used in some large indoor areas, but they should not be used in areas heavily occupied by people or food.”
  • Bird lasers that use optical laser-beam technology to harmlessly repel pest birds over great distances—up to 2,000 meters. Handheld devices are available that are silent and portable.
  • Catch and release bird traps. “Traps come in various styles and sizes to accommodate specific birds and numbers of birds,” Donoho said. “These are humanely designed to easily remove trapped birds without injuring them.” Many of these feature a built-in feeding and water station to keep trapped birds from starving or becoming dehydrated.

Birds that are live captured should not simply be released outside the plant, as they are likely to simply find their way back in. Rather, Brugh said, facilities should check with local authorities about recommendations and legalities of bird relocation and euthanizing, then take the proper action.

In some areas, shooting is also allowed, however it should be used a last resort. “Pigeons, sparrows, and starlings can be shot in most states, but you should check your federal, state, and local laws if you are not certain. Special permits may be required for shooting.” Gellerstedt said.

Additionally, if you have gotten to this point—it may simply be time to call in a bird management professional, although some pest control companies will not shoot birds.

When it comes to bird management, Riddell said, “None of it is easy.” Birds are very intelligent—sparrows have been known to hover in front of the electric eye of a retail-store door sensor in order to get the doors to open. And when it comes to shooting, he said, “Birds can recognize a person, or even the vehicle they were in, who shot at them in the past.

“Don’t underestimate the intelligence of birds,” he said.

Preventing Roosting.

Making your plant environment unattractive to birds and unavailable for roosting can help to prevent birds that do enter from making it their new home.

Birds do not fly from a far-off tree or field and suddenly come into your building, Riddell said. Rather they get closer and closer, sit on trees, then on your building, then find an opening and fly in. So to stop them from establishing themselves in your building, you need to stop them from establishing themselves on and around your building. “Best practice is to be proactive and put a program in place to stop birds from coming in, especially if you’ve had issues in the past,” he said. These should include bird proofing, conducting an annual audit to inspect for and repair openings, and interviewing your staff to ensure they are not encouraging bird presence. “People like birds; they will feed them and give them names,” he said.

“To help prevent birds from roosting or getting established indoors, protect critical interior areas with exclusion products,” Gellerstedt said. These can include tools such as exterior bird netting (¾” or smaller), bird spikes, electric shock systems, and bird gel on small pipes, fixtures, lights, and other areas where it is difficult to install physical barriers. “It may be cost prohibitive to cover all areas, so start with the critical and high-pressure areas first and go from there,” he added.

Internal exclusion techniques such as bird netting, bird net curtains, and vinyl strip doors also will physically block out birds from getting into and roosting in warehouse, production, and office areas, Donoho said, adding that in many cases, “it’s best to work closely with a bird control specialist to solve this problem.”

Some bird control product manufactures also provide planning services, Gellerstedt said. Customers can send in photos, plans, or drawings and receive recommendations for effective solutions and procedures for installation.

“Being intentional and proactive is key to preventing birds from roosting or getting established indoors,” Brugh said. “Birds are in search of food, shelter/security, and water. Formulating and implementing a strategic process that minimizes the availability of these critical needs is an important element of a comprehensive Integrated Pest Management plan.”

The basic principles are all the same no matter the location, he added. Reduce and remove any food, shelter, and water. After that, keeping the facility sealed and doors closed when they are not in use is key. Common issues including leaving doors open during repeated use, leaving bay doors up between trucks, and having holes in the structure of the facility. To assess your plant for bird access, inspect the facility to determine:

  • Are doors kept closed when not in use?
  • Is food kept out of line of sight of birds living outside?
  • Are there any gaps or openings that birds are exploiting?
  • Is spillage swept up regularly?
  • Are trash, compost, and compactor areas kept clean and covered?
  • Is nesting removed on a regular basis?
  • Is indoor standing water kept to a minimum?

As with so many pest management solutions, the best offense against birds is a good, proactive defense. Before a bird is ever seen in your plant, facility management should develop a plan and instruct all employees how to report a bird, Brugh said. “Food processors have food coming in and out of their facilities all day long and the larger the operation the more doors that are open. Having an effective, integrated pest management plan for birds is key to getting all employees on board to help manage this issue,” he said, adding, employing a reliable bird removal company can help solve active issues quickly and, generally, with a guarantee.


The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at