Do-It-Yourself Bird Deterrents

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 04:31PM - Comments: (17)

Robert Helmick's spider-like contraption uses heavy monofilament fishing line to form the "legs" of the spider.

As we found in our last major test of bird deterrents, there is no perfect solution for every bird problem, but we’ve come across one that seems to work well in the Florida marina where we kept one of our former test boats, an Endeavour 42 Lost Boyz owned by boat builder Robert Helmick. The main perpetrators in this particular marina are starlings that feed on the berries near the marina then apparently find a comfortable roost to digest (and deposit the remains of) their meal. Sailboat masts seem to be the preferred perch, as the dockmaster reports that he rarely sees them atop powerboats.

The top of the mast poses a special problem. First, unless your mast is down for the season, it is a difficult place to install any kind of deterrent. Second, even if you do have easy access to the top of the mast, it is hard to find a place to mount any deterrent that won’t interfere with antennas, lights, or wind sensors that are already fixed at the masthead. In addition, adding any substantial weight at the top of the mast is to be avoided.

A temporary deterrent that can be removed when you are sailing seems to make the most sense. Lately, we’ve been experimenting with various deterrents mounted on a long 1.5-inch diameter PVC pipe that extends above the mast. (The diameter of the PVC isn’t really important, it depends on what deterrent you use.)

The idea is not new, and there are many different variations. Our current design is based on one we borrowed from our neighbor in the marina slip across from us. The deterrent on his boat is a bird-like kite (see photograph above). In addition to the PVC pipe, he uses an inexpensive fishing rod that is epoxied into the top of the PVC pipe. This seems to help the kite fly better even in still air, and offers a lighter-weight extension. Even in very light air the bird bobs above the mast and this seems to be enough to keep the starlings away.

Two other boats in the marina have adopted the system and it seems to be working well. I’m not sure the kite has to look like a bird. Simple diamond-shaped kites have been used for centuries to keep starlings out of rice paddies in Asia for centuries.

The fishing pole helps keep the kite soaring in light winds.

Our own variation doesn’t use a kite. Developed by Robert and his 14-year-old son Kameron, the deterrent uses an upside-down spider-like contraption similar to those profiled in the 2010 article. Instead of wire for the “legs” of the spider, we are using stiff 100-pound monofilament line (see photo). These are threaded through the end-cap of on the PVC pipe and spread outward in various directions like a springy petals of a flower.

Although our arrangement is less cumbersome and more durable than the kite deterrents, it does not seem to be working as well as the kite. Part of the problem seems to be that the monofilament “legs’ don’t always extend over the top of the mast. Because our system is a physical barrier as opposed to a “scare” device, complete coverage is important. Perhaps stiffer wire would work better, but we like the monofilament because it makes it easy to lift and lower the PVC pipe.

The basic setup is pretty simple; you just need to decide what you want to put at the top of the PVC pipe and where on the pipe you want to attach your spare halyard. You need two attachment points to the pipe to keep it near vertical. One at the bottom and one that is further up the pole. For the kite-like device, the second attachment point can be less than a quarter of the way up the pole; this keeps the kite angled away from the mast where it won’t tangle with the rigging. Putting a stopper knot in the halyard and running it through the pipe itself is also an option.

If you want the pipe to stand directly over the mast, or nearly so (as our spider-like device requires), then the higher attachment point works better; ours is about one-third of the way up our ten-foot pipe. For attachment you can drill a large hole in the PVC and pass the line through it, or you can install a ring-eye, which would make it easier to clip and unclip with a snap shackle. A modified gripper hitch, or similar gripping hitch like those we tested will work also here.

Of course, this system probably won’t deter birds that like to roost on decks or rails, like seagulls or cormorants. Our 2010 test described a few of that are designed for keeping these birds away. Bright reflective tape strung in the rigging or on a clothesline around the boat seems to be a cheap and effective deterrent in our area.
Sometimes called holographic tape, this tape can be found in many gardening stores, or online under the names Irri-tape, D-bird, or Defender Tape.

If you have a serious bird problem, check out our 2010 article for more ideas. If you have created or come across an effective homemade bird deterrent, we’d love to hear about it. You can send photos or a description by email to practicalsailor@belvoir.com, or post a description below in the comments section.

Comments (17)

I am really serious about keeping bird poop off my deck. For the osprey, I put tacks at the top of the mast, A strip of tacks on The arm that holds the wind indicator and on the bottom of a clear plastic container which is placed upside down on the tri-colored light. The tacks go through tape and are applied to the surfaces. The downside of this is that I must purchase The very expensive 3M silver painters tape, as it is the only tape that holds up to the sun. Also,of course, I have to climb the Mast to place the tacks every 3 mos or so.
Now, to keep little bird poop off the deck, I have sunbrella custom-made all weather deck covers/awnings. (This actually serves other purposes--shade to keep the cabin cooler and protection from the sun). Drawback here is it is time intensive to re-rig after going for a sail.
Lastly, I keep the pelicans and their poop off the lazaret by crisscrossing 1/8 inch line.

Posted by: Subey | May 7, 2019 10:44 AM    Report this comment

2 indoor outdoor cats, if you live on your boat.

Posted by: MarineLube | May 2, 2019 3:05 PM    Report this comment

Fishing line or wire between the shrouds, about 4" up from the spreaders.

Attach a $5 windsock to a 3/8 dowel, run that up the mast with the main halyard - if it'll clear the wind instruments. Birds always land into the wind.

Posted by: ForGrinsToo | May 2, 2019 12:56 PM    Report this comment

Since I installed an arch with a pair of solar panels on it the birds generally stay off the boom and deck. Now all I have to do is find a solution to get them off the solar panels; its a perfect lading strip.

~ ~ _/) ~ ~ MJH

Posted by: MJH | August 27, 2017 12:06 PM    Report this comment

I use brightly colored mylar streamers, like the kind seen on car lots. They are available on the web. My boat sits in a mooring field in Morro Bay and until recently I was the only one doing so. These streamers pretty much guarantee the birds visit other people's boats and leave mine alone. I run two of them from the stern around the stays forward to the bow, on both sides. Then I run one from the bow around the mast, a foot or so above the cabin, back to the stern rail. This protects the foredeck and the cabin top and the cockpit. The last one, I run from the backstay, up about 6' around the topping lift to the mast, and then down to the bow. This protects the main sail and appears to discourage our winged friends. I use a simple half hitch and a slippery so that it's easy and fast to untie. These have worked great for me. They do begin to fall apart at about 18 months, but they're inexpensive and easy to use. Your boat will look like it's ready for a parade. My sunbrella is purple, so my mylar streamers match. They're purple too. Quite festive, and effective. Good luck.

Posted by: Pandora | August 27, 2017 10:10 AM    Report this comment

I had such a big problem with birds I was going to sell the sailboat. One thing I did was install tie-wraps on the spreaders, with the long end pointing up and cutting it off at a sharp angle. As described in this post: "www.birddefensesystems.com/what-else-do-i-need/" If that doesn't stop it another option is to protect the boat with a shield also as described here "www.birddefensesystems.com/how-does-the-bds100-bird-deterrent-work/"

Posted by: billbaron | August 25, 2016 8:45 AM    Report this comment

My Father in law found it much better to sit and drink rum with a pellet gun at hand for some entertainment. Hours of entertainment but I don't think it really detered the birds as eventually he would go to bed!

Posted by: GARY J | April 29, 2015 1:12 PM    Report this comment

I have a little bird that sits atop my raymarine wind vane which is mounted on a 12 foot pole at the stern. He does the round trip on the vane and is kind of cute to be honest. He doesn't seem to be much of a pooper so I leave him alone

Posted by: Mike Cunningham | March 30, 2015 8:38 PM    Report this comment

In a slip with water available, I think you could keep your deck bird-free with a "Scarecrow" from Home Depot. Worked great on rabbits in our yard.

Posted by: neil.barney@cox.net | March 26, 2015 3:04 PM    Report this comment

Years ago, I mean over 20, I put a plank on top of my mase with satinless steel wire comingout at different angles. No birds came to the top of that mast again.

Posted by: STeven B | March 26, 2015 2:25 PM    Report this comment

Oops, in my previous comment I meant to say starlings are my current problem - not sparrows. Hundreds of them will park themselves all over the boat and trash it in minutes with red berry poop! They even cling to vertical rigging so I try to remove everything I can during the lay-up season. I've also tried covering the boat with tarps held on with bungees but wind storms play havoc with them and they will chafe anything they touch. With the dock water turned off for the winter, dipping a bucket over the side is the only option for cleaning. By comparison, the Bird-X-Peller has been a Godsend.

For ospreys, creating a nearby nesting platform on a pole, if possible, is the most effective deterrent because osprey nesting pairs won't set up camp near another nesting pair.

Posted by: Glenwood C | March 26, 2015 7:07 AM    Report this comment

I've spent years and a boatload of money trying to deter birds. I've tried stringing monofilament line all over the boat from the top of the mast (hoisted up by a halyard) - it did absolutely nothing. Even if you achieve some initial success, birds will usually get used to the deterrent after a while. Some physical deterrents work well in some places - for example a stainless spider on the top of the mast will stop all birds from sitting up there. What I've learned is: 1) you have to know what birds you're fighting, 2) you have to learn what they're afraid of, and 3) whatever deterrent(s) you deploy must change frequently. For gulls, I've had some success with simply arranging the loose ends of black dock lines on the deck to look like snakes. In my area, sparrows tend to be a problem in the late Fall and Winter and I've found the Bird X Peller Pro (Bird-X BXP-PRO 1 - $135 on Amazon) to be very effective with the right predators, maximum volume, and random/long delay activations during daylight hours only. Another advantage of this unit is that it also repels annoying people.

Posted by: Glenwood C | March 26, 2015 6:34 AM    Report this comment

I moved to Florida a few years ago and was the only sailboat in a 20-slip location. The little black birds infested it right away. I tried several things including a plastic owl, a kite, etc. I finally solved the problem for good and no bird has set foot on my mast or spreaders since. I ordered a product from Home Depot called "Bird-X". It is in a caulk tube and applied with a caulk gun and it does not get hard but remains sticky. The birds hate it and I caution you to put only a little because you don't want it on your hands or halyards or sails. Just a very thin bead will do the trick. It has been two years and I have not had to re-apply. They don't sell it in the stores so you have to order it on-line.

Posted by: Aubrey L | March 25, 2015 8:54 AM    Report this comment

A big eyeball or pair of eyeball-like pictures is reported to do the job. Last year I stumbled onto a 2x3 foot pic of the face of the Geivo Lizard, which I glued onto thin plywood and sandwiched with some clear plastic sheeting and used West System epoxy to waterproof it. When moored, I lash each corner to the deck... Or toerail towards the bow. Seems to work in keeping birds away I'll repost after the 2015 season.
Ed
CALIENTE , Cal 35
Hull, MA

Posted by: Ed White | March 25, 2015 8:49 AM    Report this comment

Although it is not homemade an Owl replica attached by heavy monofilament so it swings is 100% foolproof.

Posted by: Irvin L | March 25, 2015 8:37 AM    Report this comment

Bungy cords crossed over in the airspace in the cockpit.

Posted by: John M | March 25, 2015 8:16 AM    Report this comment

I've tried many things, but eventually my efforts to stop the rain were less practical than learning to carry an umbrella. Since most of the dirt lands in small area under the mast, I catch most of it with canvass awnings that are rolled up and stored when sailing.

I also run fishing line a few inches above the spreaders; that keeps them off the spreaders.

Posted by: Drew Frye | March 24, 2015 6:55 AM    Report this comment

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