The damage done by pests can be extensive, from structural deterioration and contaminated product, causing facilities to lose money, to health issues, spreading illnesses that can make consumers sick. When thinking about the pests that most typically invade food facilities, cockroaches, rodents, flies, and stored product pests are most likely the first few to come to mind. However, pest birds are frequent threats to food facilities, too. And if birds aren’t properly managed, they will waste no time in establishing their flocks and inflicting harm to property, product, and people.
Why is Bird Management Important for Food Facilities?
Because bird droppings can contaminate food, as well as damage structures, certain species of birds are considered serious nuisance pests. Proper actions must be taken to exclude them from entering buildings, as well as prevent them from nesting or gathering outside of facilities, where they pose a contamination hazard. The federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits any conditions that could result in food contamination; therefore, it is necessary to discourage birds from nesting in exterior areas where fecal matter, feathers, or hazardous nesting materials could contaminate product or packing materials on loading docks.
Nests located inside, on roofs, or in the eaves of facilities are a health hazard both for employees and consumers. Bird droppings can enrich the soil below to promote growth of the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum, the spores of which can, when inhaled, result in histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease. The inhalation of just a couple of spores can cause mild cases in people, and the threat is most severe from nests or roosts that have been abandoned for a significant period of time. Once droppings have dried out, the right conditions are more likely to develop that can cause spores to be released. Nests are also a draw for a variety of insects and ectoparasites that cannot be tolerated in any facilities handling food products.
Salmonellosis is another common illness spread by pest birds. Salmonella bacteria can be found in pigeons, sparrows, and starlings, all of which commonly invade food production and storage facilities. The illness can be spread to humans when infected bird droppings come in to contact with food, either from above or when the Salmonella organisms are carried on the feet or bodies of birds that land on food products.
Common Pest Birds
European starlings, house (English) sparrows, pigeons, and Canada geese are four of the most likely bird species to cause problems in or around food storage and production facilities.
European starlings are likely best recognized for their tendency to gather in large, loud roosting flocks. Starlings are known to carry more than 25 diseases, including encephalitis, histoplasmosis, and salmonellosis. Ectoparasites—primarily mite species—are also associated with starling nests and droppings. Starlings will nest in just about any nook or crevice in and around structures. Because starling flocks can easily number in the high-hundreds, one flock can create a massive mess with their droppings.
House sparrows are not actually true sparrows, but a member of the weaver finch family. House sparrows are known to carry more than 29 diseases and ectoparasites, and they are considered one of the major carriers of St. Louis encephalitis. They prefer to nest in protected areas in, on, or near buildings such as structural ledges, gutters, light fixtures, and inside warehouses. Sparrows tend to re-use the same nesting sites over and over again. They feed mainly on seeds or grains. House sparrows are common invaders of warehouses and food processing plants, where their droppings could contaminate products.
Pigeons can be found in virtually every U.S. city and in most rural areas. They are notoriously dirty birds, capable of spreading more than 50 diseases and ectoparasites. They prefer feeding on seeds, grains, and fruits, but will really eat just about anything, including garbage, animal matter, and manure. They typically build their nests on ledges of structures and roost on perches that are high off the ground. Pigeon droppings are highly acidic which can cause damage to building exteriors, and their droppings, feathers, and nesting materials can contaminate food products.