Call For a Tow

If Bird Brains are so Tiny, Then Why is it that We Humans Have So Much Trouble Outwitting Them? Seaworthy Readers Fight Back!

Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6 | Page 7

I live in a water front development on the Bohemia River in Maryland. We have a dedicated mooring area. Black cormorants drove most of the sailboats away. I went into a marina but did not use my boat as often because it was too much trouble for one person in and out of the slip.

I didn't mind the small birds (easy to clean) I just wanted to deter the cormorant who love spreaders and like booms. The boom was easy, a rope with a few rags about a foot and a half above the boom from mast to topping lift. For the spreaders I used one-inch PVC pipe made into one foot wide "stars" (four of them) attached to a PVC spreader raised to fit and swing slightly with the boat motion in the space above the spreaders and tied off on deck. This set up has worked for me. It takes me about five minutes to rig or take down and stores in a plastic laundry basket.

A neighbor used construction site plastic fence raised on the hail yard to the spreader is also working. The cormorants have not gone away; they moved to other sailboats that have not tried to keep them off.

Making these things and using them takes a lot less time than one clean up.

I sympathize with those who have suffered the unfortunate experience to have their favorite watercraft become the local roost for gulls and other water birds. I'm a freshwater boater and keep my boat in a lift at the end of 140 of dock. Gulls are the problem at our place and the first year I put the nice blue Sunbrella canopy on my boatlift, the local gulls took an immediate liking to it. I tried blow up owls and those beach balls with the eyes and they only kept away the least fearless of the gulls. Then I decided to try something that was a bit of a decorative touch as well. I bought a string of pennants from a local car lot merchandiser. These are the plastic, triangle shaped pennants you see strung around car lots. I extended 4 masts made from PVC pipe and strung up the pennants across the top of the canopy. End of bird problem. The trick is to have something waving above the roosting area that serves to constantly pester the birds. The pennants also hinder easy takeoff, which further discourages the very wary birds.

Looking at the photos in the Jan. '02 Seaworthy article, I could imagine the owner of that yacht rigging up a few strings of pennants that he could clip over the horizontal roosting surfaces when he departs. The flapping flags will surely keep the birds away. If done right, it should only take a few minutes to clip on the pennants when departing and unclipping and stowing when returning for a sail. With all the standing rigging on a sailing yacht, there cannot be a shortage of attachment points. Regardless of the small effort involved, it has to be better than the alternative modern and somewhat aromatic art left behind by the birds. There may be a few in the marina who might comment on the artistic taste of the owner once the pennants are installed. But if those pennants drive the birds to neighboring boats, generous display of pennants might just become the fashion statement of the season.

Hope this helps. Keep the keel side down,

I am not a real expert on birds, but the smaller birds that used to love to sit on the lifelines & spreaders no find some place else. Mylar ribbon (found in card stores, etc) cut-up into streamers and displayed on board to blow in the breeze worked great for me. I attach them to the top of the stanchions, and on the bow pulpit and on the spreaders and my bird problem has been eliminated. By using the same color mylar as the trim on my boat (gold) it is actually pleasant on the eyes, too!

We have similar problems here in Monterey, CA with seagulls and pelicans. My problem began in 1995 after buying a 24' Columbia when I rowed out to find a 3' diameter nest full of eggs being incubated by a seagull and lots of bird droppings, numerous fish bones, and feathers everywhere. Other gulls were dive bombing me as I climbed aboard my boat. Needless to say, it took many hours to clean up the mess; and this wasn't the first mess only the one that finally made me take action.

My solution in use now continuously since then was to run a line from the bow pulpit via the mast above the boom via the end of the boom to the stern pulpit. I then purchased a roughly 40' x 15' piece of used fish net (no the holes in it don't seem to matter) from one of the local fisherman and placed that over the line so as to effectively cover the vessel from bow to stern. The net is draped over the stanchions and safety lines. I occasionally use some wooden clothespins to "pin" the line to the safety lines to keep the net from falling back into the cockpit and to keep the net taut amidships. Winds up to 50-kts don't seem to affect the net. This completely and effectively stopped all birds from landing anywhere on the vessel with the pleasant result that the boat is always ready to sail with only 15 minutes necessary to remove the net. It helps to tie some colored bits of string or cloth selectively on the net (say red and green) so it's quicker to replace when through sailing.

Great publication; I always learn something new.

Best regards and great boating,

Your January issue requested ideas on keeping birds off boats and docks. Over the years, ducks and gulls have occasionally plagued us, using our boats and docks as their latrines. Here are some lessons learned from our experiences and those of our neighbors:

  • Plastic owls or snakes are effective deterrents, but only for a few days.
  • Small garden fences placed on swim platforms when docked will initially deter ducks from climbing aboard, but once they figure out that they can push them aside they are ineffective.
  • A rock or stick thrown at ducks will often keep them away until the following day, but gulls will return in an hour.
  • Birds do not like to perch or rest on rocking boats exposed to the wakes of passing boats.
  • An application of deck sealer will significantly reduce the number of birds on the dock for a few months.
  • Fishing line a few inches above the edge of the dock makes it difficult for land to land and is fairly effective in keeping gulls off, but ducks seem to figure it our after a few weeks.
  • A dog leashed to the dock is very effective.

We look forward to seeing other's ideas.

Several years ago, I saw a bit on this problem in an old U.S. Power Squadron publication. Their suggestion was a line run to the masthead with the pennant halyard that would allow a free end of the line to flop around with the movement of the boat by wave or wind action. The line should stop a few inches from the boom so it will not tangle. It worked for me.

It has been a challenge to keep the decks, covers clean of bird droppings on our 58" Hatteras in Florida. Our solution came from one of the garden catalogs that came to the house. It is a motion sensing rainbird. We have two, one set up on the pulpit, and one on the mast overlooking the bimini over the flybridge. It has worked very well. A few fisherman get a little close on occasion and get sprayed too but we are satisfied.

On defending one's boat against well-fed birds:

Masthead fitting: Install a ten-inch vertical wire or spike standing in the center of the masthead fitting, if other gear already there does not do the job.

Spreaders: String nylon monofilament four inches above the spreaders, from mast to shroud.

Deck/Cockpit: Suspend plastic owls over foredeck/cockpit areas - suspended so that the owls move when the boat does. I have heard that any round dark object with prominent eyes painted on will do the trick as well. (An old fender!)

Keep a few potted plants on deck. They will benefit from the birds' donations and thus provide a very thin silver lining on the cloud of winged poopers.

Take up boating on Lake Titicaca in Peru, which at 19,000 feet (I think) is probably too high for birds.

I haven't experienced the gulls as I am from the Midwest and boat on the Mississippi river at Alton, Illinois.

Ducks are the culprits here and we found that common household bleach sprayed on the dock where they hang out causes them to move away.

I saw your article on page 16 of the 1/02 issue of Seaworthy. Here's my method that works on boats, docks, or anywhere birds are unwanted.

Use fishing line (e.g., stren), and create an overhead web. It doesn't take much. so start with just a little, then later add more if birds still keep coming.. It's cheap and easy, and you can add little strips of cloth, whatever, just to remind you that the stren is there so you don't run into it (It's supposed to keep birds away, not you!).

This method takes but a few minutes. If you weave the stren web over the boat, tied to bow rails, hand holds, etc, you can cut it off next time you return to the boat, discard it (responsibly!), and weave a new web when you leave. While this may seem a hassle to some, re-weaving takes a lot less time than cleaning up what the birds leave behind!

This method works because birds are like airplanes and need room to take off and land. They don't just drop in like a helicopter, they swoop in and out. With the stren web in place, this is impossible. I've also seen it used successfully in other places, like outdoor restaurants.

Hope this helps. It works! Bye, bye, birdie!

First, my boat is in a slip, so I don't have near the problem that David Ledley has shown in his pics. I have had some messes, however.

I think these birds dislike strings that interfere with their wings.
Years ago a friend on my dock told me about tying a small line from the mast to the topping lift just about 6-8" above the sail cover. Has worked pretty well.

I now also tie a small line from my stern pulpit to the backstay, making a three-string cage, which also has worked. This is taken from the starboard rail to a point about five feet above on the backstay, then down to the rail aft and port, then over to the port side and up again to the backstay. Wish I had taken my camera to the boat last weekend to send pics of this. If you'd like, I can do it next weekend.

I have not had anywhere near as much cleanup to do since using these techniques. Probably the more string you can run around your boat, the better the protection. Just make it difficult for the critters to land and take off.

Great magazine, by the way!

My wife Dede and I on our 38' Irwin Center Cockpit Sloop "Lady Lady" have had a degree of success with monofilament fishing line. We string a single strand from a flagstaff on the bow pulpit back to the first set of tie off point of the lifelines. We have also ties a single strand about 4" above the Sail cover from the mast to the topping lift --it needs to be removed to hoist the sail --some times we untie it sometimes we just cut it off--depends on the knot! On the spreaders we have a set of commercial

Cormorant spikes (I think you sell them in your stores --or you can get them through New England Yacht Rigging in East Greenwich, RI. It is a plastic rail with 3-4 inch plastic spikes facing upward. In addition we have also tied monofilament from an eye on the mast out to the spreader boots and across the top of the radar dome. The East Greenwich Yacht Club burgee, although sacred to us yachtsmen, keeps the #$@% off the masthead. We have also added a sew streamers to the mooring pick up pennant and place that sticking out a little fwd of the bow pulpit with flagging streaming aft. A few more strands of fishing line from back stay to the end of the davits has helped some back aft -but that's still a work in progress. When we're on board, 12-gauge 00 buck might work well--but a little attention attracting to DEM. So then there's the old stealth Coleman Pellet Pistol --but now again the stray lead can do collateral damage unless you're Dead Eye Dick or Anne Oakley! Got to watch out for 'friendly fire'!

Only kidding about the hardware but in summary:

  • 1. Monofilament on the bow.
  • 2. Monofilament on the top of sail covers.
  • 3. Monofilament on the backstay to davits.
  • 4. Cormorant Spikes and mono-filament on the spreaders and radome.
  • 5. Flagging on the mast head.
  • 6 Flagging on mooring pennant.

There have been a lot of funny stories written about people starting out loving the beauty of the first snow of the season , but as the season goes on the snow becomes a task master to shovel, plow and contend with. The same stories about the twelve days of Christmas with twelve Lords A Leaping, Seven Maids a milking --etc. enough is enough. I was going to write a story about the one cutie little bird sitting on top of my out board motor, then two cutie little birds --but I decided not to-- it would have been a crappy story anyhow!

Hi. I have just read your article from the January 2002 issue of Seaworthy concerning the problem of bird droppings on board. I have had too much experience with this problem. Our mooring in York Harbor, Maine is in an area where there is a large population of Cormorants. Their droppings are somewhat like epoxy and I am convinced that West Epoxy could capitalize on this characteristic. In order to minimize the visits of the offending cormorants I came up with a system to discourage the landings of the cormorants on my masthead and spreaders. I borrowed the technology of the horse farmers and bought an electric fence charger at Agway. It uses a 6v battery and puts out about a 30,000-volt charge pulse every few seconds. I ran the wires up the inside of the mast and put pairs of wires across the spreaders and at the masthead. I have had the good fortune of being on board when the birds have attempted to land. There is very loud squawking and rapid departure! I have also embellished the masthead with the addition of about 20 18-gauge hypodermic needles embedding the base in small blobs of silicone cement. I am happy to report that with the combination of treatments that my decks have remained quite clean now for a few years.

I have a cruiser, which I keep in a slip. For some reason, birds (sparrows, starlings) like to perch on my boat rather than the others around me. I have no idea what the attraction is to my boat, but my canvas cover would always be creatively splattered whenever I returned.

I finally came up with a solution that was successful for me and have not been bothered since. I stretched two pennants of small American flags (the type you might see at a grand opening of a new store) across the front and rear of my boat (from the roof supports of the marina). They hang just about 2 feet above the canvass. The movement of the individual flags with the wind, seems to keep the birds away. And the fact that they are small American flags does not destroy the visuals of the docks.

Hope you can view this picture of the pennant string of flags. If not, it can be viewed at

I have great sympathy for David Ledley as I also have my sailboat on a mooring and must contend with the toilet habits of birds, especially cormorants. English sparrows seem to be the landlubber versions of cormorants on the home front. I have won the battle with both by humane if somewhat labor-intensive means.

The trick is to make their chosen perching site undesirable or unusable. To do this, I string a line that is too small for their feet to grip above the site to be protected at a height that produces a significant tripping hazard for the offending bird. Sparrows cannot perch on small diameter monofilament and cormorants cannot perch on lines smaller than about i inch. To protect perching sites at home, I string monofilament about an inch above the site to be protected. The line needs to be supported every few feet and, if the site is wide, parallel lines are needed about an inch apart. The lines interfere with takeoff and landing and make walking embarrassingly clumsy for the little fellows.

For my boat, I protect the mainsail/boom with a 3/16 nylon line running from the topping lift to the mast about six inches above the top edge of my Stack Pack. My lifelines are too small for cormorants but the cockpit rails are prime targets. Here, some kind of support is needed for lines above the top rail. Rail clamps are available on page 49 of the BoatU.S. 2001 catalog that can be made into suitable devices. Fishing nets strung between the lifelines can easily protect decks and other wide areas. Any method that makes walking, take off and landing hazardous or embarrassing will work. Just remember that such protection devices need to be supported above the surface needing protection. Covering the helm and pedestal with two polyethylene garbage bags is also quite effective. The slippery material greatly degrades the traction and gripping ability of bird feet and makes surface solidity ambiguous. In addition, the outer bag is a throwaway cover if the birds do manage to secure a perch. My suggested approach is to start with the easy problems, then go on to the more complicated ones if needed.

I think you will find that as you progressively obstruct perching areas, your boat will cease to an attractive gathering place and birds will stop visiting before you get to the really tough protection problems. However, there will always be at least one stubborn bird that will insist that your boat is really an outhouse so you will still have an occasional mess to clean up.. Cormorants eat fish whole and digest everything. Stomach acid dissolves the bones and the result is a lime that will again become insoluble in water once it is exposed to air long enough to react with available carbon dioxide. So do what the cormorants do, use stomach acid…no I am not suggesting that you throw up on the mess although that sometimes is nearly unavoidable. Stomach acid is dilute hydrochloric acid that is readily available as muriatic acid at pool supply stores or as toilet bowl cleaner at the grocery store. Read the labels. But be careful, the stuff doesn't differentiate between fish bones or your skin; it will digest both. If I remember my high school chemistry correctly, never pour water into acid to dilute it; the reaction might be sufficiently exothermic to boil the first drop of water and splash acid around. Pour the acid into the water. And make the solution only as strong as you need to. You can also use vinegar if you have the patience.

Good Luck

There are two good products on the market; both are owls (waterproof) that look like the real thing. One has a "clock mechanism" that makes the head go around at the rate of the time of day. The other has a "bobble head" that the wind pushes around and up and down. In both units the "action" makes the "owls" look "lifelike". Any good garden or farm catalog will have these units at about $29.95 on up.

The following is in response to the back page article (Jan 2002) on the mess the cormorants made to a sailboat and the plea for solutions. I had the same problem this past summer in Marion, MA when a pair of cormorants decided to use the second set of spreaders of my four year old 38-foot sailboat as a site to practice their bombing technique. After I cleaned up the mess twice, the solutions narrowed to 3 options:

1. Hire someone with a 22 rifle to get revenge. The bird lovers in Marion would have done a number on me if I ruffled one of the bird's feathers. Option 1 was discounted. 2. Several companies sell thin stainless steel needles (about two to three inches long) which come, stuck into 3 inch wide by two to three feet long pieces of thin plastic which has a adhesive backing. They are used to keep pigeons off of buildings. The needles stick out of the plastic in random directions making it impossible for the birds to land on them. They are also ideal for sticking onto the topsides of spreaders.

I found that the cormorants love to hang out on the highest spreaders and face up into the wind (towards the bow). Their droppings are more liquid and more fire hose in nature.

A couple of my friends have installed these needles on their spreaders and mast tops and have had very good results. No bird problems. However, I have concerns about the mainsail in a downwind condition and the jib in a tacking situation. I guess if the needles are installed carefully, or trimmed to avoid sail entanglements this solution will work well. 3. I was told by an old salt that the solution was easy.

Cormorants do not like to have anything moving over their heads, it makes them very nervous. If you raise one or two, small light weight, brightly colored pennants up on your halyards -- just above the spreaders -- the cormorants would not camp out on your boat. Much to my surprise, the flag thing worked. For the months of July and Aug I had no problem with the cormorants. I had several positive comments from other boat owners -- whose boats were out on moorings like mine -- on how fine my boat looked all decked out with nautical flags.

These same moored boat owners soon found out why I had these flags flying when their boats became the targets of the cormorants. By the end of the season there were many boats with colorful pennants flying all the time. I think it is an improvement to Marion Harbor.

Hopefully, the solutions mentioned above will work for you. I would be interested in getting some feedback if this pennant solution works for you and particularly if it has any scientific basis.

Per you request in the January '02 issue of Seaworthy for ideas/suggestions for keeping birds and ducks off of boats I offer the following. I keep my boat on the Severn River in Severna Park, MD (the Severn is a tributary of the Chesapeake). It seems every September the seagulls move in to feed on bait fish that show up that time of year and subsequently make a mess of all the piers and boats in the vicinity.

For the past five years or so I used the following technique to keep birds off my boat and the pier. I've strung monofilament fishing line (30 lb.) over the pier at about 7 feet off the dock. I use the light poles and in some places add a 2x4 or 4x4 post attached to the dock. In most places I have a line running down each side of the pier but not everywhere. This does a remarkable job of keeping the seagulls off the pier. Near by piers are covered by birds but not this one. I've never actually witnessed a seagull trying to land on the pier and abort but there is no "evidence" that they've been on the pier. My guess is the birds eye sight is good enough to see the monofilament and it represents enough of a hazard that they avoid it.

On my boat (a Phoenix 27, the "Fortune Cookie") I use the same technique. My half-tower top is a great landing place for birds. Here I string the monofilament between the antennas, navigation light and cockpit light. On the bow of the boat I string monofilament from the half-tower to various places on the rail. These lines I attach with small hooks so that I can quickly remove them when I use the boat and replace them upon return. I also attach small "streamers" of rags to these lines I use on the bow. Around my slip I also run monofilament from the pier to the outboard pilings. It keeps the seagulls off the pilings and adds another obstacle to even getting to the boat. I don't have a problem on the stern of the boat - my guess is the pier and outboard piling monofilament keeps the birds away.

It's a little effort to set all this up but far less time and aggravation than cleaning up the mess without it. Hope this helps. Now if someone could only come up with a way to keep spiders off of boats. How about asking Seaworthy readers if anyone has ideas on how to solve that problem?

In response to the Jonathan Livingston Strikes back in the Seaworthy January 2002 issue, solutions include a full boat cover, long bristle brush and/or spikes on the spreaders, mast top and boom; and large fishing flashers hung from the fore and aft stays.

Re: Jan. 2002 issue, Jonathan Livingston Strikes Back.

Here are a couple of tricks that may help keep bird droppings off boats.

1. Using a canvas wheel cover will help. While this will not keep the bird droppings off the boat, it is washable.

2. Tie a small line (1/4-inch) from the topping lift to the mast so that it hangs just a couple of inches above the sail cover. Birds can't roost on this flopping line.

Hope this is of some help.

We have a boat and have also had the problems of the birds. We purchased a solid, ceramic owl with a spinning head. The birds are afraid of the owl and keep away from the boat. We also purchased an owl for our swimming pool and keep that on the edge of the pool and are now longer bothered by the birds.

Someone told us about this and we laughed, but were so bothered by the birds that we thought we'd give it a try and we found it really works. A good owl costs about $30.00.

My wife and I are a pair of new boat owners (Hunter 285) and so we haven't yet had the "joy" of dealing with bird "presents" on our decks. We bought our boat in November. However, I do have some experience scaring away our feathered friends.

I use to own a house in the woods that was sided with rough sawn 1 x 6 treated white pine boards. I built the place myself and almost before we moved in we were plagued with woodpeckers! The little guys loved to latch on to the house with their feet and bang away, usually early on Saturday mornings. I tried all sorts of things to get rid of them, including firing away with a .22 rifle. They're really hard to hit.

In the meantime, on a business trip I found myself inside the hanger of a corporate jet service. Up in the rafters I saw owls! After asking a pilot how they got there he informed me that they were fake plastic owls that the maintenance crew placed above the parked aircraft to ward off birds that would fly in and try to nest. They caused the same problem that Mr. Ledley has been experiencing. After seeing the "faux" owls and learning how well they worked I put two up on my house and the little "peckers" stayed away. However, you do have to move the plastic owls (which I purchased at a hunting and fishing store) once in a while so the birds don't get use to seeing them in the same spot. They're not that stupid. Hope this helps.

On another subject, we are not only new boat owners but new BoatU.S. members. Your Seaworthy publication is great! Hate to learn from the mistakes and misfortunes of other boats but we've already learned so much from just our first issue. Keep up the good work.

Well, the first picture has a simple, if not obvious solution… a helm cover, Birds will not land on anything that is not defined such as a blanket or cover because footing is everything. With this in mind, I have used simple paraffin and put a light coat on the boom {the third picture was just how my sloop used to look}. The effect was successful, as the resident Blue Heron had a hard time staying perched and as the sun grew higher in the sky, the better the wax worked. The surprise effect was, if the bird did manage to "fowl" the boom, it wiped right off. DO NOT USE THIS METHOD ON ANY WALKABLE SURFACES, for obvious reasons. Also, birds have memories. If you and you neighbors help each other out and "shoo" away birds from your dock EVERY time you see them, then they will find an easier perch and "remember" the dock not to perch upon. If all else fails, place a large box of bird feed on the rudest power boat owner in the marina! Just Kidding!

The blue heron has made a good "come back" since almost being wiped out by DDT. Since they are 100% fish eaters, marinas are there favorite hunting grounds, since they are shallow and calm. It's not necessarily the number of Herons but due to the size of the bird, the "presents" they leave are quite memorable. A sea gull is "a drop in the bucket" so to speak compared to the Heron and, I assume is why boaters have commented on them. Additionally, they appear to have routines or favorite places to perch, as they are not "airborne" hunters. They perch, scan and strike from that perch and will spend hours on the same perch if the hunting is good. This is the behavior my letter addresses, namely, making MY boat not one of his favorite hunting spots.

You will get a BUNCH of ideas submitted. After trying everything I could find, including plastic owls and balloons with a big eye in them, I finally designed my own device and it works without disturbing a feather on the "dirty" varmints!

It is a simple rectangle of schedule 40, 3/4" dia. PVC pipe with uprights about a foot tall at each corner. A stainless screw in the cap covering each upright is then strung with monofilament fish line, in a rectangular and cross pattern, which gulls, and other birds, can see from a distance and THEY HATE IT! The rig sits on my spotless Bimini top now free of "paint jobs" to be scrubbed off. It is easily lifted off when we leave the dock. It worked so well that many of my neighbors have copied it.

Most of our bird problems are from common seagulls. Sometimes, but rarely, crows, pelicans and Great Blue Herons "contribute." I am sending, via snail mail, some good photos with notations on a Xerox copy thereof.

Photo 1 shows the overall looks of the bird chaser. The antenna is not a part.

Photo 2 is the best. Horizontal pipe is white (available also in gray) 3/4" dia. schedule 40, PVC pipe. Then affix 12' high, 1/2" gray (or white) vertical PVC risers. Each riser is capped by a PVC cap drilled to take a stainless, self-tapping screw, entered part way, to guide and tie the monofilament fish line (barely visible in the pic). Most joints are cemented with PVC cement but risers have some threaded connections. Either will work. My canvas man sewed one end of boat-canvas strip (shown in photo) which can be opened at one end by a turn-type canvas fitting. This prevents blow-away of the device in high winds.

The corner fittings are called Side outlet ELL in the supply store and are not real common.

Dimensions of the risers and the horizontal runs can vary according to the boat requirements.

BE SURE to use heavy duty Schedule 40 PVC. The regular is too weak and bends easily.



Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5 | Page 6 | Page 7