Wild birds in Maine will often nest in barns to get out of the elements. It can cause some real problems for humans and livestock. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Cori Martin is fed up with birds chasing her out of her barn every day.

No ornithologist, Martin is not certain what species of bird has taken up residence in her Belmont horse barn. Whatever they are, she describes them as little, brown and aggressive.

“They showed up two summers ago and were nesting way up in the rafters,” Martin said. “I was thinking they would leave when winter came.”

Not only do the birds show no indication of flying south for the winter this year, their numbers have increased in the barn.

“They multiply like rabbits,” Martin said. “When I go out into the barn they are perched on the stall walls or on the rafters looking at me.”

She described it as feeling very much like a scene from the famous Alfred Hitchcok thriller, “The Birds,” in which flocks of aggressive birds terrorize a small coastal town.

Beyond the stress that can come with constantly looking over your shoulder for dive-bombing birds during barn chores, having birds take up residence indoors on your property can pose significant health risks for your livestock.

Wild birds can carry diseases, bacteria and parasites harmful to domestic livestock, poultry and pets, according to Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner, director of the University of Maine Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. They can also cause serious health issues including salmonella, listeria, tuberculosis, and mycoplasma diseases that cause respiratory issues.

“It’s a good idea to keep wild birds away from your food producing and other animals,” Lichtenwalner said.

That, however, can be a challenge.

If preventative construction is an option, Lichtenwalner suggests depriving the birds of what they really want — a place to perch and nest. That means no flat surfaces on which they can gather or build those nests. Placing support beams at 45-degree angles or using specialized metal “porcupine boards” with long, sharp projections can help.

When it comes to evicting unwanted birds from existing farm buildings, there are options ranging from doing it yourself to calling in the professionals.

Before doing anything, it is important to first consult with either state or federal wildlife officials to make sure the birds in question are not a protected species. For example, when it comes to any of the migratory bird species, it’s against the law to kill them.

Since barns are prime nesting real estate, one way to discourage birds is to take away the things that attract them in the first place, according to Lichtenwalner.

This means storing food in containers. When feeding animals, you can use feeders designed to let livestock eat, but not let birds in. Animals can also be fed in areas sealed off from birds using lengths of heavy plastic strips as doors, like the ones used in walk-in supermarket coolers.

If birds are attracted to your animal feed, not only is there the risk of disease, but Lichtenwalner said the birds tend to pick out the quality ingredients of feed, leaving behind less nutritious bits.

Along with food, the birds are looking for water. If your water troughs or barrels are full, a bird can perch on the edge and easily drink. If there is only an inch or two at the bottom, they will land in the water and wade around. The ideal scenario is to keep your water at levels between the two.

To keep birds from nesting in upper beams, farmers can secure the entire ceiling area with netting placed just below those beams and supports.

“This can be tricky in older, larger barns with hallways and passages,” Lichtenwalner said. “If there is a way to get in over the netting, the birds will often find it.”

If there is a good mouser on the farm, you can provide walkways that allow the cat to get to where the birds nest. Gadgets that make noise or flash lights can work, but Lichtenwalner said birds can get accustomed to these disruptions and simply ignore them.

If the problem is serious enough, there are licensed companies in the state that can help rid property of unwanted birds.

“It is a natural thing to have birds in a barn,” Lichtenwalner said. “You really can’t blame them.”

Martin may not blame them, but she is determined to rid her barn of them.

She has tried blasting music and is thinking of getting a decoy owl. She’s also intrigued by the idea of stringing netting on the underside of the barn’s beams.

“I don’t really like the idea of climbing up that high to do that,” Martin said. “But my son is home from college, maybe I can ask him to do it.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.