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!

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We have not had seagull perching problems for several years, possibly because a pair of ospreys moved to our canal in Holmes Beach, FL. The messes caused by gulls did not compare at all with the deposits sprayed by the male osprey perching on the mast top. Everything within a twenty-foot radius (depending on wind direction) would be totally whitewashed within a day of cleaning up.

To stop this, a two-foot length of one-inch diameter PVC pipe was attached vertically to the mast top. This was not a solution; the osprey stood atop the PVC and continued to watch for fish in the canal and send the remains downward. Next, three sharp eight-inch aluminum spikes originally intended for installing rain gutters were spaced equally around the mast top and secured with stainless hose clamps. The points were set at different heights to allow the osprey to contact only one spike at a time.

This approach sent the osprey to perch in trees and on masts further down the canal. However, absence of the osprey from my boat seems to have encouraged the resident great blue heron and egrets to occasionally sit on the booms and do their thing. Their donations do not even begin to match the osprey's but I am open for ideas to stop them.

I keep my sailboat on a mooring in the North Chesapeake. I have tried a plastic owl as well as hanging CD's from the rig. They don't work, even though some people claim they do, I believe it depends upon the birds that are visiting your boat.In any event for me it is Osprey and Sea gulls. They like the boom and especially the bimini (when stored) to use as a perch to fish from, and will bring back their catch and eat it on you boat, which really makes a mess.

The fix was string. I purchased a heavy string, to small for the birds to land on and string it around the mast and back to the topping lift, about 6 -10 inches above the boom. This eliminates a nice landing spot and keeps the bird off.

The bimini was a little trickier, as there was nothing to hang the string from. I used two old driveway marking reflective sticks, everyone uses these days and attached them to the bimini stainless supports with Velcro straps. They stick up above the stowed bimini about a foot. I then ran the string from post to post. No more landing spot. I have also heard and purchased a product called a Gull Sweep, which I believe would work well, however in my installation the sweeper would hit the backstay and therefore not work properly, It would work nice for a dodger or hard top though. Now if I can find something to keep away the bugs?

After flags, streamers, owls, etc. this season Kathy and I have discovered the ultimate cure. On our Allied Princess, we run light lines from the head-stay to the running back-stays, crisscrossing amidship, about five feet off the deck. On these lines we attach CD disks (old AOL, set-up, etc.) approximately every three feet. It looks like a floating casino ship, but it works. We have not had one problem with birds of any type since this arrangement. Once put together, we simply untie the ends and roll the arrangement up. Takes about fifteen minutes to set up, less to take down. Let me know if others have had success with this.

Dear Readers/boaters/ fellow dock mates, BoatU.S. asked for remedies for clearing the poop off our vessels from those pesky "flying crab pots" (a term we use on the Chesapeake bay because seagulls sit all over the bay and at a distance look like crab pot lines, which cause us to alter our course to avoid, until they fly away) ARRRGGHHH!!!! OK. I'm sure BoatU.S. will get all kinds of creative ideas, tin pans on strings, plastic owls (they don't scare anything other than other horny owls), and that new gizmo that's battery operated and swings two propeller-type vanes around your top deck every 15 minutes or so. (we deduced that upon arriving back to our boat from a week of work and real living our boat would be littered with hundreds of pair of sliced off bird legs) but here is the REAL POOP: Birds aren't stupid they are at your marina for a reason. And its not because they love sitting on the flat tops of pilings. ITS BECAUSE YOU ALL ARE FEEDING THEM!!!!! HELLO - CLUE TIME!!!!!! No food, no bird!!!

Ok, now your all saying "I don't feed them" and "nu-uh, it's not us." Well, someone at your marina is feeding them, perhaps unknowingly. I suggest this. Have a marina meeting, or send out a flyer to all slip holders. Educate them that bird poop comes from bird FOOD. Also, if your marina does transient business. Ask that your dock master include in their slip assignment "welcome kit" a statement about feeding seagulls. If you have a marina restaurant, contact the restaurant manager and see if they can tighten their efforts to contain their dumpsters and garbage cans completely. Once the food is gone, the birds will go to someone else's marina!!

Now, on a humorous note, two seasons ago we had a flock that just wouldn't leave our marina basin. So we decided to torment the birds just to get even.

We attached a plate to the top of a radio-controlled boat and filled it with bread. Once the birds recognized the "immense amount of food just floating there for all of us to eat", we took the birds on an unpleasant trip around the marina. You get the idea. We all felt better.

Hope this helps.

As per your request, here is how we got rid of the "birds." Our biggest problem was not only gulls, but also apparently heron who ate their fish dinners on our sailboat deck, and left much of it to bake in the sun).

Solution: drape netting typically used to cover fruit trees to repel birds. We draped it over the boom and attached it to the life lines with clothes pins (the netting does not create much windage). We strung a few very fine wires across the bow area (from port to starboard lifelines). The birds seem to be afraid they will get tangled in the wire or netting and have completely left the boat alone-saving us hours of work. It only takes a few minutes to rig and unrig the netting and wire. P.S., the plastic owls do not seem to help at all, but don't tell our owl, Hooty that-it will hurt his feelings.

Regarding your request for ideas on keeping birds away from boats (Jonathan Livingston Strikes Back in Vol. 20 No. 1, January 2002).

The Sanitation Districts of Los Angles County, an agency that operates a number of sanitary landfills, has successfully utilized a simple devise to prevent seagulls from landing on refuse. This was necessary because seagulls would carry bits of refuse aloft and drop them in residential yards, much to everyone's consternation.

Two moveable poles on sturdy bases are placed one on each side of the active portion of the landfill and a single heavy duty clear monofilament line is tightly stretched between the poles about 35 feet above ground level. This height allows trucks to drive beneath. The seagulls somehow sense the line is there but cannot see it and therefore refrain from landing anywhere in its vicinity. This has been very effective over a number of years and has also been used at water reservoirs and in sewage treatment plants.

This works only with spiraling birds such as seagulls and probably will not deter pigeons or ducks, for example.

This scheme might work on boats, particularly sail boats. Suggest a clear monofilament line be stretched from the top of the mast to the tip of the boom and maybe one from the mast to each side about amidships. It's worth a try.

In reference to your January issue on the back about keeping the birds away it's a great article because we all have to deal with the crappy critters. Anyway my dad and I just got our first sailboat this past summer after years of dreaming about it. And one of the first things we learned was how to keep the birds away. Before you leave your boat for a week strap plastic grocery bags all around the lifelines, stays, a few on the boom and some around your dodger and bimini. It only takes a few minutes and the sound of the bags when they rustle keeps the birds away. You can also line the lifelines with the strands of colored flags that you see in car lots if you ask the dealer they will give you some old ones and those seem to keep them away too. As far as keeping them off the mast goes there is one really good idea that was printed in Sail Magazine a few months ago. If you take about a three- to six-inch strand of twisted wire, kind of like the wire for the stays, and untwist all of it but the last inch or so. Cut all of the wire to different lengths once you have it untwisted and try to make it sharp. Then bend the wire out in all different directions. Connect it anyway you can to the top of the mast but out of the way of any wind gauges. This will keep the birds from making a poop perch out of your mast.

If you still can't keep the birds away and you need to get there dung off your deck use spray on Clorox Window cleaner or Household Cleaner to get the pesky stuff off. It might take the wax off too so keep some spray on wax around too.

I also have a question that I think would make a good article. We are at a marina on the Chesapeake and our biggest pest problem is not the 50-foot powerboat in the slip next to us but the spiders. They are horrible. There seems to be about three different kinds that we can't get rid of them. They seem to get in everything on deck and in the cabin. And as soon as the sun starts to go down they are everywhere and if anything is open in the boat without a screen they get in the cabin and all over you. We have cut down on the number of them inside the cabin using sticky paper from the exterminator and one of those as seen on TV bug away things you plug in. I was wondering if this could be printed and maybe I could get some suggestions before I develop aracnophobia.

I've used the following on a 30' Sabre sailboat for the past 10 years I have tried a lot of tricks and gadgets but the best is fishing line (about 20-lb test). 1.Tie four permanent lines from the stern pulpit up to the backstay (two each side). 2. I also have a cheap 5' fishing rod that I stick out through the stern ladder; then run out enough line to reach the end of the boom(tie on a clip to make it simple to remove) Note; after clipping this line to the boom take up on the reel so the rod is bowed. 3. Attach a line to the mast about 18" above boom and run it back to the boom topping lift about 18" above the boom. (this one will get broken occasionally when raising the sail)

Dear Seaworthy,

I was both amused and disheartened by the pictures of David Ledley's besieged cockpit. We keep our Pearson 30 (converted to a wheel steering system) on a mooring in a bay off Long Island Sound. We have found that six-inch fluorescent ribbon, tied simply around clothesline at approximately 12" intervals, works very well on the bow (the line is run from the bow's safety rail and then back and forth across around the safety lines). The wind makes the ends of the ribbon flutter, and the movement keeps seagulls from using our clear deck as a butcher table for fresh crab. When we're using the boat, we simply untie the "seagull/coriander jewelry" as part of our departure preparations.

We haven't had the same problem as Dave with the stern, but our solution for the bow should work by using the same principle: I'd suggest tying a line with fluttering fluorescent tape above the boom from the mast back to the backstay.

One other suggestion: we remove our teak cup holder during storage and place it in the cabin. And we plan to buy or make a wheel cover to protect the pedestal and its gadgets from all of nature's elements.

I have been plagued with all types of birds in a slip at Lakewood Yacht Club in Seabrook, Texas. Here are a couple of solutions that I have used when the siege is on-going:

1. To prevent birds from landing on my bimini and boom, I have draped my spinnaker lines from the mast to the back-stays very loosely and tied nylon strips all along it. As the boat rocks, the lines move and the birds don't like it. My boat looked every bit as bad as the picture in your article except that my bimini also had dried fish and shrimp that birds regurgitated. I never made a claim...

2. To prevent birds from landing anywhere on your rigging, my father built a device that runs on 9-volt batteries (two). This device emits a high frequency pitch beyond the range of humans that keeps the birds at bay. This device is also very useful if you have any fruit-bearing trees. Just install it anywhere on the boat. I happened to put mine inside a winch handle holder that is mounted at the base of my mast.

I will be waiting with much anticipation for your April compilation!

My pier and 21-ft. center cockpit were covered with droppings from seagulls, which were all over the area. They would fly away as soon as we were in the area but turn your back and they were sitting again before we were off the pier. Our boat sits on a lift when not in use and the gulls just made it their home. The cowling on the top of engine was one inch thick with droppings along with the pier and T Top!!!!! I put two, six-inch by one-inch pieces of wood on each piling and a windsock with streamers on each corner of the L-shape of pier. All of this took place in the 2000 boating season. I can say that for 2001, only two places on the walkway of the pier were hit by a "dive bomber" flying overhead. Hope this information can help some fellow boaters in need.

I keep my 26' sailboat on a mooring in Raritan Bay, and I had to laugh when I read the story about the guy with the poop encrusted boat. Yes, seabirds, given a chance, will foul your deck something awful. It's a symptom of clean water, because until maybe 5 or 6 years ago, it wasn't a problem here at all.

There was a recent article in some publication or another about a fortune hunting/sunk treasure seeking ship, an old steel hulled fishing trawler off the Carolina coast with a similar problem. It was a magnet for seabirds, being the only thing floating in a steady position for miles around. They fixed it by running a wire from the generator to the railings. Whenever they threw the switch, the seagulls would fly off. It was quite a party trick, but they aren't as dumb as they look, seagulls. Although it took them awhile, the birds learned that if they lifted one leg, they could stay on the rail. So whenever the power came on, all the birds hoisted a leg…

Anyway-practical cures. Here in NJ, the birds stay off the moored boats until about mid-July, when the water warms up, then Katy bar the door. I remember seeing an osprey try to grab hold of my masthead once, years ago. And once the blue crabs come in, you get it all on deck. We have cormorants, seagulls and terns. For volume of poop, cormorants are hard to match, but terns, which poop their own weight each day, are a close match. Seagulls primarily like to use the decks for taking apart blue crabs. After a week or so away from the boat, I can get a fair idea that's its time to rig flutter cord by counting the crab shells.

The cure: birds hate anything overhead that flutters. Starting in July or so, many boaters will start string cheap flags, the sort you see at car dealerships, overhead, about 18-24 inches above critical areas. Birds like to roost on spreaders, booms, railings and pulpits.

Consequently, I stretch some flutter cord (cheap parachute cord or any thin, cheap line, with 18" pieces of old audio tape tied to it every 18" or so) from the pulpit to the mast; then from the mast along the boom to the topping lift; and from the backstay port and starboard to the stern pulpit. Terns love to sit on the bow pulpit facing the wind, squirting poop all over the bagged jib, so I stretch line from about 6' up the fore-stay port and starboard to the pulpit. This almost completely eliminates the problem, and only takes a few minutes to rig/unrig.

So, happy sailing and a clean deck to all!

I read of your interest in bird protection. The Ensign magazine, from USPS had an idea that I used. The plan is to deter the landing and easy escape. This is done by setting up lines over the boat. It works for me!

I have a 21' Sea Ray bowrider & the person who suggested the idea has a sailboat and it worked for him. My rig has no mast, so I used a pole up through my bimini. The pole is an adjustable, aluminum tent pole, which allows for easy storage. An adjustable boat hook would do.

The lines run from the two forward cleats to the top of the pole & back aft to the two stern cleats. There is a cross over line forward, running over the up lines & securing to the side rails. There is a center line from the top of the pole back to the cross line between the two cleats. This seems complicated, but goes on in only a few minutes at the most.

The key is the fabric piece, which sits on the pole. It has grommets in each corner & can have a snap or grommet in the center to keep the piece in place on the pole. The forward lines are preset & the aft lines are tied off after the cover is in place.

The lines are 1/4" and obstruct the easy landing or escape. These can easily be set up on most boats, and the materials are easily stored. It works w/o wind or power. The birds go to the other boats!

Let me know if you need more details. I use your magazine & articles in the six to eight classes that I run each year.

In response to your request in the January 2002 issue of Seaworthy, I offer the following personal experiences developed over many years of trial and error to deter birds from my sailboat:

1. Most effective when at dock or at anchor: String one strand of monofilament fishing line about 6 feet off the deck from fore-stay, outside shrouds and back-stays, once around entire boat. Use plastic clip on each end. Also string same about two inches above and across top of boom from mast to backstay. Spreaders can be permanently treated the same way using silicone adhesive or tape to fasten ends about two inches above the spreaders. This method seems to work for most birds, as it resulted in the minimum amount of droppings.

2. Somewhat effective: Place a string of plastic flags (like car dealers use) down centerline of boat about six inches above the boom. This seemed quite effective, but varied with the season.

3. Minimally effective: Hanging a plastic owl from rigging. Unless the owl's location onboard is changed frequently, whatever effectiveness this might have is lost. Apparently the birds learn not to fear an owl that doesn't move from perch to perch.

4. Heard about, but not tried: Tying CD's to short strings tied to a main line strung from stem to stern. The bright reflectiveness of these blowing in the breeze is reported to be effective, but I haven't tried this one yet. It is possible that combining this with #1, above, might be the ultimate.

I just saw your plea for help from our feathered friends. Though we live in Colorado, we boat as much as we can at Lake Powell in Utah. We have a few seagulls around, but the raven population is quite large. After cleaning up more than our share of "messes" we have found a solution. If you'll go to, you'll find quite an assortment of bird repellents. We have Velcroed the Bird-B-Gone spikes to our biminis and the birds have had to find other places to leave their messes.

Good luck and hope the readers can spend more time boating and less time cleaning up.

Tell David Ledley to go back on his mooring and Jonathan Livingston that I have the solution to those pesky birds.

I also keep my boat on a mooring in Newport Beach, CA. and have found an absolute way of keeping all types of birds off my boat. Check out my website under the Maintenance Guide Booklet.

This definitely works and will satisfy your readers.

Good luck and have fun boating.

I have used one of the plastic owls and it does work, despite my neighbors laughing at it.

I had a very nice dark blue cockpit cover made for my boat, every weekend I would find white racing stripes of bird poop down it. What a mess especially when it got baked by the sun. I hung the owl and the problem was gone except for the dropping from an occasional fly over. When I forget to put it on the stripes come back right away. The owl should hang so that it moves freely to look more realistic. My 2¢

The best way to get rid of unwanted birds is to get a plastic owl and mount it on the boat we you are away. Almost all birds have a fear of owls and will stay away

I use a simple procedure to keep gulls off my 150-foot pier, attach small uprights about 50 feet apart on each side of the pier and string light monofilament fishing line between them, about 5-6 inches above the pier. Gulls prefer to take flight from a position where they can drop down a few inches or so. The line along the edge of the pier requires that they take off directly upward, so they refuse to land on the pier at all. I've used this for years and my pier remains clean while my immediate neighbors' piers are a constant mess.

This also works on the spreaders and boom of my sailboat, but I haven't yet figured out how to deter the tiny birds that cling to my backstay each fall.

In Eustis Fl. as commodore of the boat club we had more than our share of bird problems. Ducks, great blue herons etc. can really leave some unpleasant memories behind. I recommended using small firecrackers when the birds were resting in and around our boats. Two are three attempts and the problem seems to have discouraged most of them. Similar treatments have been used at airports and have been effective. Hope this is of some help to your readers.

One option that seems to work on spreaders and booms is to string a taut wire or very thin line about an inch above the roosting place. The wire isn't thick enough for the birds to grasp and prevents them reaching the top of the spar. For cabin tops and cockpits, the rotating horizontal windmills seem to be all that works. The birds seem to recognize in time that plastic owls, snakes and "eyeballs" aren't a real threat.

I am not sure if you would call this clever, inventive, but heard it before. A year ago, I was always being bombarded with bird dunk at my lift slip in Edgewater, MD. I had noticed that a very few boaters had dummy owls mounted either on their craft or on the dock by their moorings.

I purchased such an owl and mounted it on a piling next to my boat and since I have done that, I no longer have a bird problem. While most owls are fixed in position, I have found that you can purchase an owl whose head will swivel in the breeze making if even more life like.

We also had the experience of having to clean up our sailboat, especially when still on the mooring, but 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!

Here is a solution for your dock: Stretch fishing line approximately six inches high across your dock every two feet or so creating a grid. This will keep the ducks off your dock but you have to ask yourself - is the solution worse than the problem?

In Australia we use a product called singing wire but piano wire pulled tight with turnbuckles will do the same when the wind blows the wire sings and stops birds from bombing your boat hope it helps

Regarding your article on "Jonathan Livingston Strikes Back" I found the perfect solution for our Pearson 39 "Gina Marie". I tied thin lines to three pie tins, tied one to the back stay and two to the frame of our bimini just close enough that even in the slightest wind they would bang together. The brightness of the tins together with the noise kept the birds off of our boat. After a few weeks of this I only had to keep one of the tins flying on the back stay. For you gardeners out there, the same method works to keep rabbits and deer out of your garden.

Good info in the January edition. For bird problem on boat, docks etc., I have used line strung from one end of my boat to the other with bright objects. You can use the pennants that car dealers use across their parking lots to draw your attention. Anything bright and shiny will keep them away. Elevate the line so wind will make objects flutter, twist etc. Birds are afraid they will catch their wings in the line. You can use a small line and tie aluminum pie plates etc. and string these. Hope this helps some reader.

Keeping crows, seagulls, and even herons off the spreaders and boom have always been a challenge up here in the Seattle area. I first solved the spreader problem years ago by stretching a piece of stainless steel wire between the base of each spreader and a point on the upper shroud about five inches above the tip of the spreader. Birds can't land, it's unobtrusive looking and it lasts forever. Same principle for the boom: stretch a length of nylon fishing line (clear) from a point on the topping lift about eight inches above the end of the boom to the mast. I wrap it around the front of the sail cover and tie it to itself with a bow so the line is tight and stretched more or less parallel to the top edge of the sail cover and so I can untie it easily and coil it for next time. My sail cover is black and this has worked for me for many years. I now have to put some spikes on top of my new radar antenna.

The problem of birds is as old as boating, I trailer so it doesn't bother me. My dad, who was around boats all his life, came up with a clever idea about 50 years ago that he used when his boat was on a mooring. The idea is now commercially available. Its called Gullsweep and it works great as long as there is the slightest breeze blowing. Dad's version was home made and looked like a giant anemometer wheel but it worked. Good Luck and happy boating.

The way we take care of the problem of ducks flying into the pool at the marina is by tying white strips of cloth across the pool in a large grid pattern. I have also heard that fishing line works also.

Good luck

Here is a web site that has a lot of anti-bird devices, some of which can be used on boats. I have no commercial interest in this company; I just like some of their products. This is in response to your back cover, Jan. 2002 issue.

I had a similar situation here on Lake Ontario, upstate NY. May not work for others but I found a dollar store rubber snake toy totally eliminated my messy duck problem. They didn't like that snake.

I was rather amused that someone actually submitted an insurance claim for cleaning bird dung off their boat. Even more amused that an insurance company would pay the claim. I guess I am just too good a customer.

Anyway, the photo of a mainsail cover on a boom, plastered in bird dung has prompted me to offer this bit of advice. And I think I got this from a letter in Practical Sailor. What you do is run a small line (1/8" max.) just above the sail cover (about 6" or so). At this height, it discourages birds from landing on the boom, and the line is too unstable for the birds to perch on. On my boat, I have sewn the line onto the sail cover at the foreword end, and a plastic hook is tied to the aft end, to be hooked onto the topping lift when the sail cover is put on. This way, it is easily rigged with the sail cover, and has eliminated bird problems on my mainsail.

I expect that BoatU.S. would give me at least a $50 reduction on my insurance renewal for supplying this valuable tip. I'm sure I saved them thousands, now that your insureds know that you pay for bird damage.



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