Bird Snit

By Tom Neale, 11/4/2004


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There’s nothing like waking up to that gentle sound of rain on your deck and finding that it’s really the pitter patter of falling fecal matter. Now I’ve got nothing against birds, really I don’t. I just wish they felt they same way about me. With all the trees in the world, all the dock pilings, all the telephone poles, all the cars, I don’t understand why they have to use my boat as their Marine Sanitation Device. I’ve tried lots of things to keep bird droppings off my boat, and lots of other things to clean up bird droppings when the first things didn’t work. Having delved knee deep into the subject for many years, I consider myself somewhat of an expert.

(But before we go any further, let me say that it drives me nuts to use some fancy word like “droppings” that I never use any other time and that nobody I know ever uses. I would rather just call it what you and I always call it. However, due to the sensitivities of editorial guidelines written long ago by well intentioned people who’ve never had to clean bird s--- off their decks two or three times a day, I’m saying “bird droppings” so that we won’t get into any trouble here. But you and I know what we’re talking about.)

The first thing that must be said is directed to those who are skeptical as to the true extent of the problem. Every time I bring up the subject at cocktail parties and other sophisticated gatherings, there’re always a few people around who don’t have boats and who don’t understand. They must also be illiterate. All you have to do to fully understand the seriousness of the maritime bird drop dilemma is to read Mitchner’s Hawaii. In the opening pages he eloquently described the very propagation of life itself in the early days of our planet, as birds, even then, prolifically pooped on barren rocks far out at sea, leaving droppings with seeds tenaciously clinging to those rocks until foliage and all sorts of other creatures grew. (I have to wonder if he would have been quite so eloquent if he had been standing on any of those rocks at the time.) Maybe the bespeckled deck of my Chez Nous means that she’s a part of some grand plan, but if so, I wish that plan would include birds that fly upside down.

Tom's Bird Drop Tips

When a marine surveyor has to cut the grass on your decks before he can check them for delamination, you’ve got a problem. For this and other reasons, its best to wage an aggressive campaign against our flying feathered fecal factory friends.

Here are some of our observations, PLEASE send me any ideas you have.

Bird droppings are more than inconvenient. They can be damaging

Click Here for More Tips

There are some grand plans around that are supposed to make birds “drop” elsewhere. We’ve used the big balloons with faces with some success, but every time the wind blows hard they blow away and hang up somewhere else, sending all the birds to my boat. We’ve also used the blow up snakes on the deck, but I keep forgetting about them. There’s nothing like going up on deck to check things out at 2:00 AM and seeing one of those things maliciously staring up at you from under a pile of bird poo. Once we borrowed a large ceramic plastic owl that a friend had bought in a garage sale. It did a great job of attracting live owls. Now there was a delightful deluge! You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced deck decorations from owls.

A most effective way of getting birds off is to grab the stays and rattle the rigging as hard as you can. I live on a motor sailer, and I’ve got lots of rigging to rattle. But this isn’t as easy as it seems. First, you have to be aboard, then you have to hear the pitter patter, and finally you have to get up the nerve to run out and shake. And there are more draw backs. As I stand there shaking and looking up joyfully, and as the mast head light bulbs and all the nuts and bolts come tumbling down, and as the birds fly away squawking, they always they let me know exactly what they think of me.

Some people tell me I ought to stop griping and just scrub my deck. Are you kidding? That’s work! I’ll do anything I can to avoid using a brush. Besides, what ends up on my boat usually won’t succumb to a brush. It’s more likely to need a Brillo pad. My idea of cleaning the deck is to grandly stand there squirting the hose. I’ve learned that the only way to remove bird “droppings” without much work is to get it while it’s still very fresh. But this involves rather precise timing. One thing you DO want to do is to rush out on deck and get it before it’s dried, but one thing you DON’T want to do is to rush out while the stuff is still plummeting down. Over the years, I’ve found that it’s important to wait until after your feathered friends have departed for their reloading. And then, when you do rush out, you have to rush slowly to avoid slipping and, far worse, falling. I’m careful to err on the side of caution and therefore generally wait so long that this glue of evolution has dried for eternity. Therefore, over the years I’ve worked on the development of other methods of loosening dried bird droppings without working too hard. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much more success in this field than I’ve had in the field of keeping birds off in the first place.

The most important thing I’ve learned is to never dock in a marina which has only 60 psi water pressure in its pier plumbing when the bird cement of the local flock needs 80 psi or more to bust it loose. When I ask marinas about this on the VHF as I’m making reservations, they never seem to have a good answer, except to tell me they’re suddenly full for the night. I’ve also learned that if the water pressure is inadequate, I can improve its effect with the hose kink technique. I kink the hose until it bulges to its maximum and quickly let go. In addition to precipitating the premature demise of some very good hoses, I’ve been able to send quite a few petrified splatters hurtling through the air. True, they often land on other boats, but at least they don’t stick.

But I don’t really feel bad at my overall failure with this problem. Suppose there had been some guy back there a few millennia ago cleaning all the bird droppings off those barren rocks out in the ocean. Where would we be now? I suppose that pretty soon there are going to be laws protecting bird poop. Guess I’d better be prepared for it, and just start leaving the stuff alone.

Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale