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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Dear Seaworthy:
After reading your article on "Jonathan Livingston Strikes Back" I thought I could provide some useful information on bothersome birds and how to keep them in their own habitat and away from taking "relief" on individuals vessels, docks, etc.

Being an avid boater and seasoned Property Manager of many condominium communities (some communities are situated on small lakes and/or have swimming pools where birds of all types like to flock) the following measures have been taken to curb unwanted birds in an environmentally correct, humane and economical manner.

1. Buy a couple of fake owls and place them on either side of the vessel in a manner that they are visible. Preferable on the mast cover or helm area, where it appears on the subject boat these areas have taking the worst abuse. Owls are predators and many birds stay clear. I have used this tactic at community swimming pools and is sometimes effective.

2. Crisscross fish line from bow-to-stern. Birds do not like to land where there is wire or line. This remedy is usually successful and can be easily set up and removed. This is effective not only for swimming pools but also around small lakes and can be equally effective on boats. 3. If these tactics fail, find a pair of swans, feed them well, and since they are territorial, they will do perform a great job of keeping other birds at bay and away from your boat.

I hope these ideas can aid my boater friends in their quest for sanitation efforts.

Keep up the great articles, I always enjoy your reports.

I would like to tell you of a problem my wife and I are having with least terns and some of the things that have worked to keep them away, most things have not worked.

The owls, snakes, tarps and canvas boat covers are no match to the destructive effect this bird has. My wife, out of frustration, has written a song about The Little Turd (Tern) Bird, to help her cope. Sung to the tune "I'm a little tea pot" the song goes like this:
I'm a little turd bird, small and cute,
You'll really love me until I poop,
hen I get all pooped out then I'll fly,
So flip me off and wave bye-bye.
After we vent and clear our minds we have been able to come up with a couple of good ideas to keep the "Terns" off our sailboat.

One of the best things we have found to keep them off the boom is to tie a loose line that swings a few inches above the boom. Tying a line very loose from the mast to the topping lift so it will swing just above the boom the terns can not land on it and it will swing so they will not want to stand on the boom. Tying light streamers 2' to3' feat long whipping around and using banner flags have also worked.

Just to let you know what's going on in San Diego from Jeff and Barb on Sailabration in Mariners cove.

My 41-ft. sailboat seems to be a magnet for the droppings of many seabirds, mainly night herons, seagulls, cormorants, and pelicans. My solution has been to break out my fishing gear which has monofilament line spooled on the reel. Using my pole for height, I spin a web of monofilament from my mast to the backstay, and from the mast to the head-stay. This web seems to prevent the birds from roosting on the boom and other parts of the boat, however they still will find the top of the mast and I am reluctant to carry the monofilament up the mast on the halyard in case it becomes tangled. When I return to go sailing, having left the line on the fishing pole, it is simply a matter of reeling in the line. I hope this solution will be of some help.

Here on the East coast of Florida, pelicans pose our most serious bird droppings problem. Last year a couple of friends from England sent me a simple solution that has proven to be remarkably effective. They sent a roll of plastic tape called a "Bird Scarer." The tape is about 1/4 inch wide and perhaps 0.010 inches thick. It is sold in England primarily to keep birds out of newly planted gardens. In our case we secured it to a shroud on our mizzen and led it forward to a shroud on the main mast.

The wind sets the plastic tape vibrating at a low pitch which, thus far, pelicans must find objectionable. My solar panel under the mizzen boom used to be covered in a week's time by the birds. Now it remains clean along with the rest of the boat.

Hi, I belong to a yacht club in Stony Point, NY on the Hudson River, 11 miles north of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Our problem is mostly Canadian geese, dozens of them. They NEVER go back to Canada. In the winter with all the boats out of the water they were free to roam the docks and what a mess. So we tied heavy string from piling to piling, sort of like a giant spider web. It seems to have cut down our problem greatly. From the pictures on the back cover of the January Seaworthy it looks as if sailboats have the biggest problem. With all the rigging sailboats have, tying string around it might be fairly easy. Now if we could just figure how to keep those geese off our clubhouse lawn, we would be all set.

Happy boating

I keep my boat on Aquia Creek at Landmark Yacht Club VA. I have been on the creek for about 35 years and there has always been a problem with seagulls making a mess on the docks and boats. I have seen many things tried. Noise makers, fake owls, and shooting one and hanging it up. About three years ago I realized that we at Landmark didn't have any seagulls on our dock or boats. I could look down or up the creek and see hundreds of seagulls on other docks. After three years and still no seagulls the one thing that stayed the same on our dock is a great blue heron. He comes in at dusk and roosts on the dock till morning. The only time he leaves at night is if someone walks up on him. Then he squawks and flies around and comes right back. He will most always do his #2 job during the night, but this is minor compared to seagulls, and he will never sit on a boat. So if you can entice a great blue to live on your dock I guaranty your seagull problem will be over. Oh by the way the great blue heron does not keep small birds or osprey away.

To help the fight against those annoying birds you can solve another annoying problem, the multitude of internet offers that come in the mail. These CDs, putting one or two dangling from the spreaders, using the flag or pennant, or attached to the halyards and down haul left spinning free with fishing line cause a disturbance with our feathered friends. This has already been proven effective on a power and sailboat but not to the extreme as your claim filer.

Well I've read the article and have experienced the same dreaded "poop deck" problem. Here's the fix I've chosen to use which does prevent the cormorants from settling in on the spreaders. Take a piece of hard wood the width of the spreader and the length of each and approximately 1/4 " thick. Drill a pilot holes every 1" along the strips of wood and counter sink each hole. Now install 1 1/2" galvanized sheet rock screw into each hole creating a strip of screw points. Attach each strip with black tape to each of the spreaders, screws facing the skies and the cormorants' feet. They stay clear and alert all their feathered friends of the dangers awaiting them.

Also, one other trick, stainless wire crisscrossed from shroud to shroud in front of the mast, creating an X pattern.

The last trick, feed them CHEEZE-they get constipated.

As to removing the mess, use a inexpensive gas grille scrub pad with Westley's whitewall tire cleaner to remove the unsightly mess and for the stubborn messes Softscrub works great. Hope the idea helps those on a mooring.

Down in Florida at the Mobile Home Park where we had a place. There was a pier that extended out into the Indian River. The much of the time was white from all the bird droppings. One of the men got an idea and strung fishing line down both sides of the pier across the piles (about five feet above the deck). This worked quite well at keeping the seagulls and pelicans off the deck and pilings. This same idea could be adapted to protect some boats.

I find that a couple of "scare eyes" balloons flying in the wind helps discourage the birds. I also attach streamers to lines near the boat; they don't like these moving things at all!!

The January 2002 issue of Seaworthy describes the problem Mr. Ledley has with the bird droppings on his (looks like mine) Catalina 27. Having a similar problem in our Florida marina with a full range of birds, from ospreys to crows etc., etc., people here have tried everything-plastic owls, plastic snakes, streamers, etc. Forget those. The smart birds do not take long to recognize fakes.

A 12 x 14 foot blue tarp (for the 27 foot Catalina), about $12 from Home Depot, seems to work best. Throw it lengthwise over the boom, add some brass eyelets in strategic areas and tie it down with stretch cords. It does not cover the whole boat, but protects most of the cockpit and stretches even under the spreaders when tied in the middle to the mast and the backstay. It even helps here in Florida to protect the refinished woodwork from the vicious sun and lasts about a season.

Good Luck!

I was glad to see your article in the January 2002 edition about seagulls wracking havoc on moored boats. I have been looking for a solution for two years with no luck. Hopefully someone has had more success than I have.

I have a 20-foot speedboat moored on the Hudson River along with about 15 other boats. The gulls, for some reason, prefer to roost on the powerboats and leave the sailboats untouched. Although my boat has a mooring over, the mess is still incredible. The cover has to be washed constantly.

As I said before, I have not found a deterrent that works, however I can tell you some things that don't. Inflatable snakes are good for a couple of days, but the birds catch on quick.

Mesh used to keep deer out of gardens helps a little. It seems that they don't like getting their claws hung up in the mesh, but you tend to find some interesting thing tangled up in it like the fish that was supposed to be the seagulls dinner. It also takes time to position and secure this on to the boat. I don't find the results worth all the bother.

I hope that other readers can supply better solutions than the things I have tried. I expect I will come up with something else for this upcoming season, but I am running out of ideas.

Maybe the solution for the sailboat owners would be to employ a "sacrificial" powerboat in the area? Maybe not.

In reply to your plea in the January issue of Seaworthy for solutions to the problem of preventing unwanted avian visitors, I would like to relay the experience we have had with this problem. As a non-profit marine research institute located literally across the street from two commercial fish docks we have large populations of the Western gulls. Our dock foreman, Vern Billington, purchased and installed two motion-activated scarecrows ($70.00 ea.) from Home Harvest on our floating dock. These inexpensive sprinklers are activated by an adjustable motion sensor and are probably used most often in back yards to scare away deer. The noise they make when activated scares animals away. As a user of the floating dock, both before and after the installation of these sprinklers, I can attest to their effectiveness. Birds are gone and their attendant guano is no longer a problem. Dealing with deactivating the sprinkler for access to my Cabo 216 is a small price to pay for a clean and safe dock. The birds become habituated to not roosting or resting on the dock after a very short time period.

Our facility, located in Washington, NC, was bothered, a number of years ago, by seagulls. The resultant mess was a major problem. The solution that we have found, is a recorded "squawker", manufactured under the brand name "Bird Guard". This emits a call, allegedly of a wounded seagull, every so often, 24 hours a day. When the system was first installed, the gulls were bothered enough to fly away, never to return. [I guess seagulls do not believe in coming to the aid of injured comrades!] The docks remain mostly free of these flying pests. We found, much to our dismay, that it did not work for terns! Fortunately, the baitfish the terns were feeding on moved on, and so did the terns. The docks are now again free of gulls.

I may have gotten this idea from someone else so I shouldn't take credit as a clever reader however it works well for me in Stuart, Florida. I had trouble with crows sitting on the backrests of my helm chairs in my 28' boat. Besides the obvious mess, they actually pecked holes in the cushions requiring replacement. I strung a single-strand of 50lb-test clear mono from the hardtop rod holder to the footrest of the fighting chair and totally eliminated the problem. We also had an area about 25' long on the dock that had no boats on either side and was the regular home of about 50 gulls and terns. I got tired of hop-scotching my way through the mess to the end of the dock each day so I strung mono between the pilings about 18 inches above the deck surface and they would not land there.

There is evidently something about the appearance of mono that spooks them. I don't know if it will work everywhere, but it sure works here.

Seaworthy is one publication that does not sit around until I get a chance to read it. It is rare for it not to have been read by the end of the day it arrives. I wonder how many lives it has saved.

The birds must have had a very good summer in 2001; we had a tremendously bad year for cormorant poop. They would get up in the spreaders of our sailboat and just do their thing making a tremendous mess. The simple solution is the birds hate mono fishing line. If your mast comes down every year just string some mono from the stay to the mast five inches above the spreader, attach some short loose pieces every six inches to enhance the effect.

If your mast doesn't come down every year the mono will eventually break and need to be re-done. The birds also hate those long streamers that they sell for the handlebars of kids' bikes. The powerboat next to us had rigged a few of these to cover their flying bridge and other parts. They were bird doo free. A couple of flags/burgees or short streamer kites run up on the spreader flag lines works well as long as there is some wind. Keep them short or they'll wrap in the mast and they won't work.

In our case we rigged a 40-inch, 1/4 inch dowel (long enough to easily swing through our spreaders) with one of these bike streamers on both ends (we've seen people use 1/2 inch bamboo too). Then we drilled two holes about center in the dowel and ran a piece of heavy wire (about like a coat hanger) through the holes and spliced them loosely to create an attachment point on both sides of the dowel. We attached the sail end of the main halyard to the top of the dowel and tied the other end of the main halyard to the bottom side. (If you have a lightweight halyard snap on your line you might want to add a weight or a retrieval ball as well). Then we ran the stick up the mast so it was about six inches above the spreader. We could twist the lower end of the main halyard to make the stick fly evenly across the spreaders, then tie it off on a cleat or winch. You could probably do the same thing using a spinnaker line. You want the streamers to fly about 2/3 of the way out on the spreaders. If the birds even come by they try to land on the stick rather than the spreader and crash and burn. No more bird doo. The best thing was the night we heard the commotion when one of the stupider of the cormorants tried to land on the stick in the dark. Boy was he unhappy.

Another more active solution is that the boat next to us had either brass tacks or small boat nails glued to his spreaders. We invested in Bird Be Gone this year. It is a track that holds sharp plastic spikes that snap in about 5" long. We're going to try that this year, but I'm a little leery of just how much wind noise they will make. Either of these could make sitting in the spreaders if you go up the mast a pain.

Cleaning off cormorant dung is difficult. It has a great deal of calcium in it like concrete, so you need an acid, not a base like bleach or soap. The best solution for sail covers, awnings, etc. seems to be to soak the item(s) in a solution of vinegar over night (test the color fastness first in a spot that doesn't show), then wash them. Vinegar works well on stubborn deck doo as well.

We saw so many different approaches last year that we're going to make a video this summer testing out the different approaches and how they work out.

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

Dear Seaworthy,

I have experienced the same problem discussed in the January edition of Seaworthy and after a number of failed solutions, hit upon the one that has worked.

I use a large piece of discarded monofilament gill netting to cover the awning, washboards, cuddy cabin and after deck of my boat. The birds--seagull and ducks-won't go near it for fear of getting their feet caught in the netting. It's 100 % effective. And with this old boat, the netting compliments it's personality and is invisible when the boat is moored at her piling.

Attached are two photos of the boat with the netting removed. When I'm not using her, she stays moored to the cluster piling in the background where the skiff is pictured moored. Until I started with the netting, the birds won. The boat is a real treasure and relic of the Chesapeake-built in 1945 in Remlick, VA about 20 miles from where we live-and now saved and restored. She's fished her last pound, drudged her last crab, hauled her last crab pot and tonged her last oyster. She's fully retired now to cocktail party cruising and looking splendid.


I read with significant interest the plight of David Ledley's more than "thoughts" problem. Here is how I dealt with a similar problem; although the solution may not be applicable to all.

Several months ago, my 31 Tiara was not so blessed with a female Blue Heron who apparently fell in love with my Royal Blue navy top. Placing several kinds of wooden animals, stringing monofilament across the antennae, and installing a motion sensing floodlight all failed to deter the rather bloated bird from placing the remnants of today's catch upon my quickly deteriorating navy top.

So, when two males came courting her, I was certain she was female. One early morning, I quietly crept up to the boat, and dropped a chicken egg between her feet. The Heron jumped about a foot high, squawking as though she had dropped one of her own eggs. She hovered for about 30 seconds and then took off.

She frequents the canal still, but never lights upon my now clean navy top.

I have a Corsair F27 trimaran which I keep on a mooring in Waquoit Bay, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. I have had a problem with cormorants perching on the masthead and spreaders. My solution was to cover the top of the mast with tacks stuck through sail repair tape, and I made a device with 1/4" rope, which I hoist up the mast when the boat is left unattended. The rope device looks like three inverted "V" sections and it blocks the space above the spreaders enough to prevent the birds from landing. See diagram. The lines are attached to the shrouds below the spreaders with spring clips that slide on the shroud. A rig with wide spreaders may need more than three sections. The vertical distance between the lines at the mast should be small enough that the upper line will interfere with a bird attempting to perch. The top line needs to have enough angle, so that the birds will not just perch on it. The device should be on the aft side of the mast and the trailing part of the line can be tied off at an angle that keeps the device from slapping against the mast.

This is a positive fix. Run 8, 10 or 12 lb. test mono fish line. Mount the fish line a few feet above the surface you wish to protect. Put a stick on each end of a boat, dock or walkway and run a mono line or two between them.



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