Keeping Birds Off Boats
If bird brains are so tiny, then why is it that we humans have so much trouble outwitting them? Seaworthy readers fight back!
In "The Birds," the 1963 thriller by Alfred Hitchcock, movie audiences were aghast at the sight of angry birds using their tiny beaks to peck, peck, peck at screaming victims. It was the kind of scary stuff that helped Hitchcock become known as a master of suspense and horror. In real life, birds' preferred method of attack is, um, more subtle, although skippers can be equally as horrified when they see what's been splattered all over their boats' dodgers, biminis, and decks.
In the January 2002 issue, Seaworthy asked readers to send along clever techniques for keeping birds off boats. After reading all of the responses, one thing is clear: Keeping anything with wings off boats is an obsession for many, many readers. All of their letters are included below. If you've got problems with birds on your boat, Seaworthy readers have the solution. Read on.
I solved a similar problem on my boat tower by running 100# mono fish line around the perimeter of the top. As per the enclosed pictures, the line is supported by 10-in. pieces of 1/8 SS rod with a stainless steel washer brazed to one end and a SS hose clamp brazed to the other. It has been in place about two years and my bird roosting problem is zero. The total cost was less than $20; it stays where I put it and there is no maintenance. My setup is permanent, but with some thought, a detachable system should be possible. It does draw some questions at marinas; most folks want to know if it is some sort of special antenna. (I usually answer yes.)
The same idea worked well in the hangar where my aircraft is kept, I just installed the line above each beam the pigeons liked and they went elsewhere.
We keep two sailboats on moorings in Falmouth, Cape Cod. Late in a season (from last week of August till late October) cormorants infestation is a real problem-they sit on spreaders and mess. That mix of fish fat and calcium from fish bones is worst than any glue - even if you are able to wash most of it from fiberglass, the residue can only be sanded. That picture at the back cover of the Vol.20 No.1 issue is nothing compared to what cormorants have done to my boat after 2-3 weeks. I really hated my boat being such a stinky mess.
Here is what my dad and I do: Cormorants sit on thin horizontal wires/structures. They don't sit on decks, rooftops and the likes. My boat has tubular spreaders, so I just used 9" cable ties tightening them 1-inch apart on spreaders and then cutting the end sharp at 2-inch length, so it's pointed up, firm and sharp. Cormorants can sit at the mast top sometimes, so I put some wooden spike on the mast top (2 inches square at the bottom, 12-inches tall and pointed).
My dad has flat mahogany spreaders, so he first made plastic sturdy stripes with SS nails 1 inch apart and then attached them to the top surface of spreaders with cable ties.
We succeeded in keeping our boats cormorant-free over last 2 years utilizing the above described method. Not a single bird dropped on our boat last 2 years. We also observed other fellow-boaters at our bay (about 100 sailboats on moorings) entertaining different ways of getting rid of their own cormorants, from just shooting them to converting boats into a hanger of zillions of empty beer cans or flags. Some people put several thin wires over spreaders - cormorant can sit on hair-thin wire. We found out that our approach was simple and very effective.
Hope it will help fellow boaters at BoatUS to avoid a cormorant mess.
The boat in the January Seaworthy was surely a mess, but I've seen worse. I've had my boat carpet bombed in as little as a day. The answer to this problem was invented by my neighbor, Linda Baker, in Warwick, RI. At the garden store you can buy bird netting intended to protect trees and plants. It's lightweight, black, and invisible from a distance. Drape a section over the boom and clip to the side rails with clothespins. Cut a section for the fore deck attaching at several points. A little loose is good. Invent a clipping location and style that is quick and workable for you. I put a line through the edges on some of mine and got some plastic clips from a bed and bath store. The birds won't land on the unstable netting. I can put it up or take it down in about five minutes. I even get multiple seasons out of the same cheap netting. We've used this approach on a 34' Hunter, 17' O-day, and my 16' Zodiac. I have a canvas cover for the Zodiac, so I just tied the netting on around the edge. It works! You may still have to put spreader spikes up at the top of the mast. Let me know if pictures, example, or product info is needed. Good luck to all!
Best answer for horizontal surfaces is a bit of fishing line a few inches above the spreaders, boom and such. They don't like the line interfering with their roost and they can't land on the fishing line. Not much we've been able to do with the topmast fly and flat surfaces.
Leaving the mainsheet loose and letting the boom swing back and forth seems to help a little. Our lifelines are fairly loose when the gate's down and we have less of a problem than our neighbors in that area.
Static displays (snakes, owls & such), CDs and other things that birds can get used to seem not to work. In fact, they seem to attract birds in our marina -- the boats with them have the worst problems. At the dock, getting rid of nearby nests seems to keep the local population of starlings down.
Practical Sailor did a review of various methods a year or two ago. Good stuff there.
We keep our boat on a mooring in San Diego and when we first moved out there we had a terrible problem with Sea Gulls, Pelicans and Blue Herons. After intensive cleaning two weekends in a row, I thought of getting some clear monofilament fishing line and tying it to life lines, pulpit, mast, toping lift, dodger and back stays. We cris-crossed the fore deck and the dodger and bimini. We tied a piece from the mast to the topping lift. Keep the lines 10" to 20" above the boom, bimini, cabin top etc. Because tying all these lines is rather time consuming we do it when we aren't planning on sailing for a two-week period. At the end of the two weeks we remove all the lines that are interfere with using the boat but leave the ones over the bimini. We've found that we only have to do this about every two to three years. The birds have a pretty good memory. The reason this works is because the birds can't see the line until they're trying to land. They 'trip' on the line and it scares them but it doesn't hurt them. We never had a problem with them landing on the spreaders but I guess you could tie some line up there, too. We used to have occasional problems with Pelicans landing on the mast head… broken and bent Windex, antenna, etc. We installed one of those bottle brush looking anti-lightning things about five years ago and haven't had anything broken since. Obviously, none of this will work for small birds.
In answer to your request for advice about bird droppings: (a). When my trawler got a lift at the dock (same dock as before), the bird droppings diminished about 90%. There are still a few droppings from fly-overs, but the birds don't just sit & poop. I reported this to the boat-lift company, and they said one or two other boaters had taken the time to call and mention the same phenomena. None of us can think of a reason why, unless the birds have some uncanny sense that the boat is not in a logical setting (not rolling with the water, about 4' above MLW, not a shipwreck, etc. In any case, I'm not complaining! (b). Another technique I've heard for discouraging birds is old CDs. A friend was just playing and slipped one over each antenna. The flat edge is unnoticed from the side view, but the grooves make an eerie reflection from the aerial view. He says it cut his bird population about 50%. He then made a string with a CD every few feet to hang from his fore and aft halyards. Again, the unnatural flickering of rainbow colors off the grooved CD is disconcerting to birds. What he likes best is that old (and sample) CDs are free, and even a huge string that stretches to masthead can be stored in just a few cubic inches.
In reference to your article "Jonathan Livingston Strikes back" I would like to share with you what has worked for me on the Nasemond River where I keep my Hunter 25 Sailboat, "Circuit Sailor."
I have used the "very light" 1 to 2 inch wide surveyors marking tape (available at most building supply companies) to tie on halyards, forestay, backstay, shrouds and lifelines. I usually tie them so I have at least 3-to 4-foot in length to blow in the wind. Remember it's very light material and a zephyr of a breeze will make them dance.
This creates a lot of action, if you have enough of them around the boat and it's not expensive. I usually use red or orange, but I'm not sure if seagulls can see color. It's also quite decorative.
To keep seagulls off the spreaders I always tie off the main, jib, and spinnaker halyards do there is no room to light or preach on the spreaders. My antenna comes out of the top of the mast and this keeps the seagulls off this point of r the boat.
Hope this helps,
I boat on Lake Erie in the Western Islands Area in general and dock in Marblehead at Bay Point Marina specifically. We have them all!! Seagulls, cormorants, Canadian geese, mallard ducks, barn swallows and purple martins. The ducks seem to be the worst polluters of my swim platform (until the baskets). The gulls leave as the docks fill up in spring, except for the occasional "bombing." Later in the season the small birds are the biggest problem. Hope this helps.
I found that running un-sheathed copper wire, in places that birds like to perch, does wonders for discouraging them.
1. From a point about 5-6 inches up the mast from the spreaders to the tips of the spreaders.
2. If you have a mast-head wind meter or wind direction device, place stiff wires upright where you can and run the copper wire along the tips… sorta' like little telephone poles and lines.
3. Run another copper wire from mast to end of boom, just above sail or sail cover. This requires removing it when hoisting sail but if birds on sail or covers is a problem, it is worth the effort.
Works for me.
Your member who was having trouble with birds on his mooring shouldn't even think of hanging a mooring when he can stay at slip for something around $100 a month. Try a slip here on the West Coast at around $500 a month. I have an offshore mooring where I have kept my 35' Ericson for years. Yes, the birds have been a problem, I found the use of nets and trip lines to work out pretty well, thought a bit bothersome having to do it every time I used the boat. My wind indicator affixed to the top of my mast was a favorite landing place for the birds until it bent over or broke off. I found a wind indicator that slipped over my vhf antenna where they couldn't fly close enough to it to land on it. End of damage to the antenna.
Hope this might be of some value to you and your survey.
We had a problem with geese on our beach, dock and boat. Our beach was unusable because of the droppings. We got a Border Collie which we named Chase because that is his job. Not only does he keep our yard clean, he keeps the geese away from our neighbors yards, the public docking area and picnic grounds. He is a fantastic pet too.
Just finished reading with great empathy your article on bird 'problems', and do have an idea to share. Some backround: We keep our 42'MY in Clayton, NY in the 1000 Islands - home to every flying 'dumpster' there is - gulls, cormorants, Canada geese, mallards, and a variety of other little chirpsters that love to park on the boat. We see all kinds of remedies that don't work (rubber owls, snakes, scary faces, etc) - but never thought much about it, as the birds never seemed to bother our boat - until this last summer. We were invaded by a flock of English Sparrows that had taken up residence in an abandoned boat house near our slip, and they relished in leaving the boathouse, flying the short trip to our starboard rail, parking, and (you know the rest !). The marina owner told me many times that during the week, there were often so many birds on this rail, there wasn't room for any more - and the rail is 35' long!
Looking for a solution that would work better than those that are tried and failed, I came up with a simple, easy to install, and inexpensive gimmick that really works - PINWHEELS. You know - those little spinning things on the end of a stick you had as a child, that would spin in the breeze. They cost all of a dollar (or less) each, and I use 2-3 on each side, plus one on the bow pulpit. Figure out a way to attach them to the rails (I use Velcro cable ties), and just stick them on before you leave the boat -takes about 2 minutes total. The lightest breeze will make the little buggers spin like crazy - and the birds hate them. It works so well that the marina owner uses some around the marina himself, and the idea has caught on with other boaters in the area.
This won't prevent the flying bombers from doing their fly-bys, but it will and does keep roosting birds off the boat, especially decks and topsides. It might also work on swim platforms and transoms - haven't tried.
Good luck to anyone that tries this - it works!
I read the plea to readers in the January 2002 issue of Seaworthy and have had the same problems with bird poop. I have a 34-foot new motor yacht, and had birds pooping daily. I would come to the boat after cleaning it the week before, and would spend an hour cleaning. I tried those stupid Owl's and fake snake's. Then I discovered the Gull Sweep. I noticed they put these on top of billboards and now have them available for boats at most boating stores. I have three on my boat constantly moving and turning as the wind blows. It keeps the birds away, because they can never land and sit in one spot. Hope this helps.
About six months ago a 60-foot ferrocement ketch moved in two slips away from mine. Along with the ketch came a cormorant that roosts atop the main mast. When we have a N.W. wind which is quite often my boat is downwind and one day is all it takes for decks, rails, cabin roof and cockpit cover to look like the pictures in your magazine and it smells like the inside of a chicken house. The owner of the ketch lives out of state and the marina refuses to do anything about it so I'am open also to suggestions.
Great Topic! It's been a problem for me for 5 years- large seagulls, ducks and Canadian geese in Traverse City, MI [Lake Michigan- Grand Traverse bay]. My defense is using the orange vinyl rolls [40 inch wide] that are used at construction sites [also work as snow fences] to "wall off" excavations so people don't fall in. I need only two eight-foot sections that I drape over the lifelines on my Tanzer 22. They are heavy enough to stay put except occasionally in high winds I will use a few bungee cord to anchor the loose ends. The holes are large enough that the birds are uncomfortable walking on them so they don't! They easily roll up and are stowed under the forward compartment. I realize it takes a few minutes to install and take down each time but let me tell you that it usually takes me 20-30 minutes and lots of scrubbing to clean up the mess when I forget [or am too lazy] to string the things on! One time, when approaching my boat that was directly upwind I almost gagged the stench was so "fowl".
Thinking about spring-
Hi! I saw the article and the plea for solutions on the back page of the January 2002 issue (vol. 20, no 1). Unfortunately, I don't have a solution but a question. From the photos, the damage looks similar to what happened to our boat at the end of the season last year. My question is, do the droppings look very gray, uniform in color and like they could be dried ashes? It seems it from the photo but I wanted to check.
At first we thought they were bird droppings but we'd never seen any that looked like that and we thought someone was deliberately soiling our boat with ashes. The weirdest part was that we are in a slip between other boats, not on the end, and both our neighbors did not have any droppings - just minor splatters from what was all over the stern/cockpit/cabin door of our boat.
I would love confirmation of what this is and I anxiously look forward to your April issue with people's solutions. I really can't deal with having to do a full scrubbing and cleaning every time we want to go sailing.
In response to "Jonathan Livingston Strikes Back," Seaworthy, January 2002.
Yes, we have had the same problem in the Westport, MA river - it is worse as the season progresses, but we have done several things, all of which seem to work.
1. We always tie a shock cord from the mast, running along the top of the boom to its end, to the topping lift. This keeps the terns and cormorants from landing on the sail cover and the dodger.
2. In 1997 we installed "Gull Guards" (a double strand of cord) on the spreaders. Cost at that time: $11.00 plus $3.50 S&H. Works like a charm, birds cannot land on the spreaders.
15 Durfee Court
Somerset, MA 02706
3. Tying shiny string or ribbon on the life lines keeps terns from perching there.
Our boat is a Pearson 30 and has been clean ever since 1997.
For the last six years we have been cruising our 36' Grand Banks Trawler up and down the East Coast and have encountered the "BIRD" problem in many places, the worst probably in the Florida Keys where we wintered. At the suggestion of a friend, we purchased a very accurate replica of a Coral Snake from the Nature Store in Ft. Lauderdale and placed it on top of a cooler on the bridge. We found a dramatic reduction in the number and volume of the droppings, especially from the cormorants. (It also startled some of our guests !) It was most effective with the Bimini Top down, so when the top was up we sometimes placed it on top of the top.
I read the article about the birds leaving their deposits on harbored boats. I sail a Clipper 21, "Clipit" at an inland lake in Ohio, Cowan Lake State Park. We leave it in the water at one of the harbors. I had all kinds of birds doing their business on my boat from the spreaders and mast and shrouds. This year I hoisted a plastic blow-up owl up the mast and made him look like he was standing on a spreader. I bought the owl at a garden store for $7.00. Our boat is 100% cleaner this year with almost no bird dirt on it all summer. I saw this at a private airport that I pass on my way home from work. I also considered putting a blow-up snake on the deck too. I didn't try it but might add him next year.,/
I noted with interest your back page note on bird droppings. I keep a boat at a dock in Florida and the boat sits for several months at a time without use. Birds perching on the rigging were a real mess.
Last year I tried a home-brew that seems to work. I have only a occasional dropping which I think is caused by flying birds, not perched ones. I bought some stainless nail brads that are very thin and about 1-1/4" in length. I drove them through thin slats of mahogony wood and attached these wooden strips, with the sharp points upward, onto the spreader bars and the mast head plate. The nails are 3/4 to 1" apart and I believe are keeping the birds from perching there.
I take the boom off the boat when I'm away for several months.
Regarding the bird mess problem mentioned on the back page of the January issue, I have heard of tying or clipping long lightweight ribbons across the top of the boat. They supposedly discourage birds from landing, especially when a breeze blows the ribbons around. And of course there's always the plastic owl, but most birds probably wise up to that one fairly quickly!
The owls, etc. that are sold are just good targets for our fowlish friends (grackles and the occasional seagull). The best method I have found is to string monofilament around the boat, especially when strung several inches above their favorite perches. The first time they fly into the mono, they get spooked and are gone. The best way to do this is to pre-measure various locations, then tie on snap swivels on each end so that you can wrap the ends around aluminum rails, fixtures, whatever, etc. and be able to remove the lines when you want to use your boat. Then just put the lines back up when you leave your boat. I use to have a terrible time down here in Georgia during the winter, trying various methods, until I tried the mono trick. By FFFFAAAARRRR, it is the absolute best and cheapest method available. Of course, powerboats might be much easier than sailboats with tall masts, etc., but it does work on our Bertram 31, the "Cold Duck."
We also had the experience of having to clean up our sailboat at a mooring after being visited by cormorants. After the first time it seemed that no matter how much we scrubbed and cleaned, they'd find us. The solution that worked for us: My husband was hoisted up in the mast and put thin nylon lines 3" above our double spreaders and later on when we got a slip he hammered finishing nails close together on top of the dock pilings. If you make it difficult for them to land they'll go elsewhere. Hopefully not to your neighbors!
Cormorants are the scourge of sailboat owners, especially those who keep their boats in a mooring. The only sure failsafe way to prevent cormorants from using your rigging as a place to hang out and dry off is to have a nesting pair of osprey on a nest platform nearby. However once the osprey leave, the cormorants will return.
What cormorants need is a place to land and spread their wings. To prevent them from landing on my masthead I have found that a common garden rake rigged on one of my spinnaker halyards the same as you would rig a pennant on a staff works well. A bamboo rake works the best. Plastic tined rakes can not hold up to the sun and soon you have nothing but the stump of a rake. Metal rakes don't seem to be wide enough to prevent the birds from landing. As for them landing on the spreaders, running a piece of stainless steel wire from the shroud to the mast about five or six inches above the spreader should keep them away. This is not 100% effective because some cormorants I've seen will land with one foot on the spreader and one on the wire to keep them from falling off. These birds are not common so the wire should work.
Something that I haven't tried yet, but will this season, is to use a pigeon prevention strip. This is made of stainless steel. There are pointed wires attached to a rib. It looks like a brush with the bristles about three inches long and the ends about an inch apart. It can be cut to the length of the top of your masthead. I wouldn't use this on the spreaders because the points are very shard and would do damage to any sail that touched it.
I hope that these suggestions will help other sailors and BoatUS avoid cleanups and/or insurance claims for damage caused by one of natures' wild creatures.
When we initially got Two Can Do (a 35 foot Chris Craft Catalina) my husband insisted on getting a plastic owl to scare away birds.
That lasted for a week, before the blue herons of Worton Creek bombed us. We moved to another mooring and were hammered again. We bought an inflatable snake. As long as we were there every week to reposition the snake we weren't hammered by blue herons too badly (However gale winds took away the snake.)
The following year a friend told us about cutting sparkly streamer ribbons at the ends and making a windsock. We also got a new snake and attached it with several strands of fishing line to the deck. It worked for most of the summer…and then the blue herons started moving in on our bimini.
All out war was declared. My husband, John, spent many hours discussing ways to get rid of the blue herons and their droppings. (No guns or Alka-Seltzer tablets were considered alternatives by his first mate.) He did however rig up fishing line from the antennas to the bimini. He figured they would learn after they got caught in the fishing line.
The following week we went to see Two Can Do-her name was now Heron Do-Do. The blue herons had perched in the one corner of the bimini that was not covered by fishing line, in the line of sight of the owl or snake and out of reach of the streamers!
The solution? John is now working under a covered shed, and this spring will unveil his 2002 anti-heron bimini top. He thinks fishing line is the way to go. We're taking bets for how many spools of fishing line will be on top of our boat this year.
Looking forward to what other readers' suggestions are.
We were troubled by sea gulls that pecked on our skylights for attention. They followed us through the house by walking on our deck railing and looking in our windows hoping for food. They were a general nuisance! They were also ruining our deck! After my husband worked on the deck for almost a week cleaning it with a pressure washer and sealing it with a sealant I decided that I had to do something about the seagulls.
What were seagulls afraid of? The only thing I could come up with was a bigger bird. It so happened I had an ostrich feather duster with a long handle… grabbing it I ran outside and made a screeching noise. (I rather enjoyed it.) The seagulls were terrified and flew away screaming in terror. It worked for months until we got a young seagull who wasn't about to give up. So, I took the same feather duster and planted in a planter box…he won't come back as long as the feather duster is on the deck. We've had a few eagles fly by and look at it and of course they're good for keeping seagulls away too. If the seagulls get used to the feather duster I intend to add eyes to it and maybe even a beak.