Birds love old houses, too

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips

I will never forget the realtor's shriek of surprise when she pulled down the dusty steps to that dark attic. We were nearing the end of a long day of looking at old houses, and this one looked promising. But apparently someone else had already taken up residence.

I saw the flash of wings and felt the breeze as the bird zipped right over my head.

The realtor had turned white as a ghost. I later learned that she actually did believe in ghosts, and when she saw something dark and menacing coming at her from the attic, you can probably imagine what went through her head! She uttered a few choice words in the midst of her terror, and now my husband was bent almost double, laughing so hard he could barely breathe.

We left the attic door open so the bird could go back to wherever it had come from, and we went to the next house on the list. There were no other encounters with birds that day, but it wasn't the first time -- nor would it be the last -- that I would come face-to-face with birds who wanted to carve out their own little corner of my old house for themselves.

How to safely remove birds from your home

I am a huge animal lover, and it has always pained me to have to move an animal from their chosen spot, even if that place happened to be a huge inconvenience or problem for me. Those little creatures have a right to happiness too, right? But when they set up reside in or around the house, it's important to remember who actually pays the mortgage.

Birds in old house attics are actually quite common, thanks to deterioration of soffits, vent openings that haven't been covered properly, and simple neglect that allows for damaged areas to remain. Besides that, a particular lovely bird known as the chimney swift prefers to build nests on the inside walls of chimneys; old houses happen to have clay liners in stone or brick and mortar chimneys, which is much easier for them to hold onto than the sleek metal liners of modern homes.

There are a few guidelines to remember when removing birds from your home. The biggest issue is the nest: Do they have one? Are there eggs or fledglings in it? The presence of a nest doesn't preclude you from exclusion methods to keep the bird out. However, if the bird already has eggs or fledglings, the best thing to do is simply leave them alone for a few weeks. Most baby birds find their way into the world within three to four weeks; as soon as you notice the nest is empty, use simply exclusion measures to keep the birds from coming back.

For chimney swifts, the story is a bit different. These beautiful creatures are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Anyone who knowingly destroys them or their nests can be fined or penalized. However, these tiny nests can be left in place until the young have flown the coop, and then a chimney cap can prevent them from coming back.

It's a good idea to hire a professional to ensure that your home is sealed off from new birds showing up to create nests in attractive places. A wildlife exclusion expert might charge anywhere from $300 to $1,000 or more, depending upon the extent of the work, but it's worth it to ensure your feathered friends stay safe and your home is yours, and yours alone.