How to Combat Bird Contamination

Food handling facilities are sensitive environments where contaminants and adulterants must be carefully monitored and managed as the potential for causing human foodborne illnesses in large numbers of people is elevated. Birds and the accompanying contaminants and adulterants they bring are causes for great concern in, on, or around food facilities. A number of bird species, including pigeons, sparrows, starlings, seagulls, crows, swallows, and occasionally birds of prey, are often found at food facilities. Of these, the three non-native species, pigeons, sparrows and starlings, are responsible for the majority of bird problems at food establishments. These birds have adapted extremely well to man-made environments and they have become extremely resourceful at exploiting sources of food, water, and shelter that are available to them as a result of human activities.

Pest birds carry and transmit a large number of animal diseases including diseases of humans, poultry, and other birds and animals. Pigeons, starlings, and sparrows have been reported to transmit over 60 diseases. Some diseases known to be transmitted by pigeons are pigeon ornithosis, encephalitis, Newcastle disease, histoplasmosis, cryptocococcosis, toxoplasmosis, pseudo-tuberculosis, pigeon coccidiosis and Salmonellosis. The possibility of the arrival this year in the United States of Avian Flu, has raised concerns about pest birds that live in close association with humans. The three common pest birds mentioned in this article have not been implicated in the transmission of avian flu, however, it has been reported that although pigeons are not easily infected by bird flu, they are not immune to it.

Bird droppings deface and accelerate deterioration of buildings, signs, parking lot light fixtures, equipment and other features in the landscape. Bird feces often foul areas, where people walk, sit, eat meals, rest, relax or work. Accumulations of bird droppings produce flies, airborne contaminants, fungus spores and detestable odors. Fouled stairways, fire escapes and other walking surfaces create slip/slide/fall hazards. Bird feces at entrances of buildings are easily tracked indoors where they can become airborne or foot-borne contaminants. Debris from birds, their feathers, their carcasses, and nest materials have clogged roof drains, gutters, and downspouts, and in some cases caused flat roofs to collapse because of a lack of drainage. Roof life of structures has been reported to be reduced by 50 percent or more by concentrated bird usage. Ectoparasites of pest birds include chewing lice, fleas, ticks, biting flies and mites, some of which can enter bird infested buildings and bite people. These arthropods can themselves inadvertently become food contaminants and adulterants.

Pigeons have been referred to as flying rats and when their behavior and associated problems are considered, this is a very relevant comparison. At food facilities, bird infestations should be treated with the same degree of concern and urgency as rodent problems.

Rats are often found at locations where pigeons have been nesting, roosting and raising young for extended periods of time. At these sites, rats will feed on pigeon eggs, young birds (squabs) and pigeon carcasses.

Managing Pigeons, Starlings and Sparrows

Before embarking on any bird control program, detailed survey, scouting and monitoring must be conducted. The bird or birds causing the problem must be positively identified as control strategies will vary from species to species. Occasionally, unusual birds may be found at some facilities and they may be classified as protected species and covered by federal, and in most cases, state laws. Migratory birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (16 USC 703-711), while non-migratory species are protected under state laws. Some species are further protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (as amended) (Pub.Law 93-205). These laws make it unlawful to pursue, capture, take, kill or possess migratory birds or endangered and threatened species, except as permitted by regulations adopted by the Secretary of the Interior. Permits to take non-endangered migratory birds are issued only when the birds are causing, or have the potential to cause, a serious threat to public health and safety and when non-lethal methods have failed to solve the problem. A state permit may also be required to control migratory and non-migratory birds protected by the state.

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