Cleaning - How important is it? - Pigeons & Disease

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Pigeon Guano Cleaning Equipment

Pigeon Guano
Cleaning Equipment

Quick Tip

When cleaning pigeon droppings (pigeon guano) or bird droppings from stonework use a bucket of water with some disinfectant and a scrubbing brush.

 


Cleaning Pigeon Droppings - Overview

Cleaning of droppings, in a bird control context, is the removal of bird guano (bird excrement) from the exterior of a building prior to the installation of deterrents, or the removal of pigeon droppings from the interior of a building following the exclusion of pigeons. In both cases it is important to remove guano, but for different reasons. Pigeon Guano on Pavement

Pigeon Guano on Pavement

When installing deterrents on the exterior of a building it is critically important to ensure that all areas are cleaned thoroughly prior to the installation of anti-perching products to ensure that the products will adhere to the surface upon which they are installed. When excluding pigeons from a roof void or similar internal area of a building it is important to remove any build-up of pigeon guano to stop smells and reduce the potential for insect-related problems for occupants. Although a majority of commercial contractors will offer the client cleaning works on the basis that guano is a major health hazard, in reality cleaning is for aesthetic and practical reasons rather than to control disease.

Much is made of the potential to contract a disease from contact with pigeon droppings, but this is a myth and the likelihood of a human being contracting a disease from contact with pigeons or their excrement is virtually nil. In the main it is the media and the pest control industry that have perpetuated this myth, in both cases for profit. The media needs to sell newspapers and the pest control industry needs to sell its services. In both cases the public is being misled. Most experts are of the opinion that human contact with pigeons and/or their excrement is no more harmful than contact with a caged bird or any other family pet. The only way in which pigeon guano can have a detrimental effect on human health is where an individual who has a pre-existing respiratory condition comes into contact with large volumes of very well dried guano. In these cases it is possible that the inhalation of dust, created when large quantities of well-dried guano are disturbed, may irritate the bronchial passages.

Excessive Soiling from Roosting Pigeons

Excessive Soiling from
Roosting Pigeons

So in what circumstances should bird droppings be removed and is it necessary to instruct a specialist contractor to undertake these works? Although bird guano cannot be considered to be a health risk in anything other than extreme cases it can severely compromise the aesthetics of a building and large quantities of well-dried guano in, for example, a roof void can cause smells and attract insects. It is always wise, therefore, to remove guano, whether it is random soiling on the exterior of a building or exists in large quantities within a building. In all but exceptional circumstances guano can be removed and disposed of by the property owner rather than requiring the services of a specialist contractor. Common sense combined with a basic health and safety risk assessment is all that is required prior to undertaking the majority of cleaning operations. There will, of course, be instances where the scale of the problem is beyond the capability of an individual and in these circumstances a specialist cleaning company would be the only option. A specialist cleaning company would normally be called in for the clearance of guano in large-scale roosts that have been used for many years. In these circumstances it may even be necessary to use breathing apparatus if there are large quantities of well-dried guano present.

As the two most common guano-related problems will require a different approach we will deal with each problem separately:

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Cleaning External Areas of Pigeon Droppings

The most common guano-related problem is the soiling of external areas of a building as a result of overnight roosting (and breeding) and/or daytime perching (where pigeons are using a building as a vantage point to exploit a food source). Of the two problems, overnight roosting/breeding problems are the most serious, normally resulting in much larger quantities of pigeon droppings being present than with daytime perching. This is because when pigeons are exploiting a food source during the daytime they are constantly on the move, checking each of their numerous feeding sites and never spending long on one site. When the birds are roosting, however, they are static for anything up to 16 hours depending on the time of year. In the summer months they may only be in their roosting sites for 8-10 hours, but in winter it can be as long as 16 hours and in some cases even longer.

The type of soiling also varies depending on whether it is a result of daytime perching or overnight roosting/breeding. Soiling resulting from daytime perching tends to be random and spread over quite a large area, although on buildings that overlook well-used bird feeding sites guano-related problems can be quite extreme. Soiling from overnight roosting/breeding tends to be found in large piles directly below the perches that the birds have been occupying throughout the night. Cleaning pigeon droppings from a roosting site tends to be easier than cleaning guano resulting from daytime perching as it is generally found in one or more specific areas and in quantity. It is also the case that if pigeon droppings is being removed from a roosting area prior to the installation of anti-perching products it will be considerably easier to identify areas in which to install the products based on the location of the guano. It is quite possible for one building to experience both daytime perching and overnight roosting/breeding problems, but this is less common. In most cases pigeons will not roost and feed on the same site unless open-ended food sources and optimum roosting/breeding opportunities exist.

Roosting Pigeons

Roosting Pigeons

Apart from aesthetics, the main reason that pigeon droppings must be removed, and the area thoroughly cleaned, is to prepare surfaces for the installation of anti-perching products. In most cases property owners will have been alerted to the fact that they have pigeons perching on their property as a result of soiling-related issues on the fascia of the building. Once pigeon occupancy problems have been identified the next logical step is to protect those areas with deterrents. In these circumstances a pest control contractor will normally be called in to advise, but a growing number of property owners are now undertaking their own pigeon control works courtesy of the availability of both information and products via the internet. Many property owners assume that by calling in a specialist contractor they will be offered a high-quality service, but this is not always the case. Some contractors completely fail to undertake any cleaning works prior to the installation of anti-perching products. Thorough cleaning works must be undertaken prior to installing anti-perching products, particularly where products such as anti-roosting spikes are concerned, which are normally fixed to the surface to be protected by silicone gel.

Anti-Roosting Spike Installation

Anti-Roosting Spike Installation

Many clients that have had anti-roosting spikes installed as a means of protecting their property often find that the strips of spikes become dislodged, resulting in the system being compromised and pigeons gaining access to the unprotected areas. If anti-roosting spikes have been installed commercially the client will normally be told that it is the persistence of large numbers of pigeons attempting to land in previously unprotected areas that has caused the spikes to become dislodged. This is rarely the case. In 99% of situations where anti-roosting spikes have failed it is due to poor installation processes rather than bird pressure. If anti-roosting spikes are installed onto a surface that is soiled with guano, or even onto a surface that is dusty, the system will fail. The reason that some contractors fail to clean prior to installing anti-perching products is the time involved and the need to carry cleaning equipment (and water) from ground level to areas at roof level. This said, preparing a surface prior to the installation of anti-roosting spikes takes very little time or effort and if the surface is prepared thoroughly (and as per the manufacturer’s recommendations) the product will last for anything up to 25 years.

Anti-Roosting Spikes for Flat Roof

Anti-Roosting Spikes
for Flat Roof

So what is the best way to clean and what products should be used? Whether guano is being cleaned from daytime perching areas (ledges and architectural features) or from the fascia of a building, the same process should be used. Before buying any products or starting any works it is essential to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, particularly if the areas to be cleaned are at height. If in any doubt about what safety equipment is required or what health and safety processes must be followed, contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/ or via the info-line on: 0845 345 0055.

Once a health and safety risk assessment has been carried out, and the appropriate health and safety equipment and access equipment has been purchased or leased, the areas to be cleaned must be thoroughly inspected. It may be necessary to protect all areas that have the potential to be used for the purpose of perching as once the pigeons have been displaced from their existing perches they will very probably just move to an adjacent area on the same building. If anti-perching products are to be installed following cleaning works, these products must also be available on site with all the necessary fixings, such as silicone gel if anti-roosting spikes are to be used. The installation of deterrents should take place as soon as all the surfaces have been cleaned and thoroughly prepared.

Pigeon Guano from Overnight Roosting

Pigeon Guano from
Overnight Roosting

During the inspection of areas to be cleaned it is quite possible that an isolated nest will be found with pigeon squabs (chicks) present. Although pigeons prefer to roost and breed in colonies there are often occasions where individual nests will be found. In order to continue with the cleaning operation, particularly if deterrents are to be installed subsequent to cleaning, the nest and contents may need to be removed.

It is an offence to interfere with a nest or its contents and therefore, before taking any action to remove a nest, with or without eggs or chicks, permission must be sought from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Once the relevant permission has been sought and given the nest and contents can be removed. If there are live squabs in the nest a wildlife rehabilitator should be contacted with a view to handing over the young birds to be hand reared. This service will be free of charge. A national list of wildlife rehabilitators, in a county-by-county format, can be found by clicking on the following link: http://www.veggies.org.uk/acd/europe/uk/rescue/rescue.htm

Once access equipment and protective clothing has been sourced, a health and safety assessment carried out and once all nests have been removed cleaning works can begin. There are many cleaning products available that are designed for use with pigeon droppings , but whether they are actually needed is questionable. There are two specific types of cleaning solutions used to clean pigeon excrement: branded ornithological disinfectants that are designed to kill bacteria and organisms and simple cleaning agentsthat are just designed to clean. The conventional non-bacterial cleaning agents are worthless and can be replaced with a strong household cleaning agent at a fraction of the price. Bacterial cleaning agents can be useful but they are unlikely to make any difference when used to clean guano in external areas.

The only exception to this rule would be in situations where large quantities of well-dried pigeon droppings exist in external covered areas close to residential accommodation. Wet pigeon guano presents no risks whatsoever to human health unless it is ingested or found on pathways where it could cause a slip hazard. The main application for bacterial cleaning agents, therefore, would be for use in internal areas and following the removal of large quantities of pigeon droppings. For the majority of applications a bucket of hot soapy water with a splash of household disinfectant makes an ideal cleaning solution for use after the removal of guano.

Cleaning pigeon droppings is no different to any other type of cleaning work in external areas and large areas can be cleaned extremely rapidly providing the right equipment is to hand. For the removal of well-dried guano from windowsills, ledges and architectural features a paint scraper is an ideal tool. It may be helpful to spray the guano with water prior to removal as this will not only soften the guano and make it easier to remove but will also reduce the amount of dust created when the guano is disturbed. Once all the pigeon droppings have been removed from the surface it can simply be washed down with a scrubbing brush and hot water. If installing deterrents in the area subsequent to cleaning, special attention must be paid to removing all guano, debris and lichen. Once the area has been thoroughly cleaned it must be allowed to dry completely before installing deterrents. Deterrents should be installed as soon as the surface has dried to ensure that no further soiling takes place.

The most commonly asked question when removing pigeon guano from a site is “what happens to it?” Many commercial cleaning companies will suggest that pigeon droppings is classified as hazardous waste and must be disposed of accordingly, but this is not the case. The Environment Agency has confirmed that small quantities of pigeon guano can safely be disposed of in a domestic dustbin/wheelie bin or in the commercial equivalent. Small quantities of guano can also be disposed of, by the property owner, at a council-run Tidy Tip facility. The Environment Agency also confirm that large quantities of guano can be disposed of in a standard skip, providing that the company used is an ‘Authorised Waste Carrier’. Virtually every company renting skips in the UK is an Authorised Waste Carrier. When the skip is taken away the property owner will fill in a ‘Transfer Note’, which asks for details of the quantity of waste being removed, the type of waste and the date. The information provided on this form will direct the driver to dispose of the waste at an authorised facility. The Environment Agency can be contacted on 08708 506 506 or by visiting the Environment Agency website at the following address: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/.

Probably the easiest method of disposing of pigeon guano is to put it on your garden. Pigeon guano is renowned for being the optimum fertiliser for gardens and vegetable crops. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries pigeon guano was a highly prized commodity, not only because it is a superb fertiliser but also because it contains saltpetre, an essential ingredient of gunpowder. In fact pigeon droppings were so highly prized that armed guards were placed outside dovecote facilities (large commercial-sized pigeon houses) to prevent the theft of it!

Further information on the identification of a pigeon-related problem and how to deal with it is available in a document called DIY controls that can be found via the left-hand margin on the home page or by clicking here.

It may also be helpful to read the Cleaning and Sanitising product/service review, which can be found in the ‘Product Reviews’ section or clicking here. This document will provide a basic overview of the various products and cleaning agents available for use with guano.

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Cleaning Internal Areas of Pigeon Droppings

The term ‘internal areas’, in the context of this document, refers to any building, derelict or occupied, commercial or residential that has pigeons or other birds roosting and/or breeding within it. The roof void is one of the most commonly used internal areas by pigeons for the purpose of here. This might be an attic space in a domestic residence or a large void within the roof of an industrial building. In both cases pigeons are drawn to roof voids because they are dry, secluded areas where human presence is rare. Pigeons can be found in huge numbers in roof voids, even in occupied homes and buildings, without the owner ever being aware that they are there. In many residential properties pigeons will exploit a slipped roof tile to gain access to a roof void and if there is no internal access to the roof void from within the property it is possible that birds may roost and breed unnoticed for many years.

Tyne Bridge, Newcastle

Tyne Bridge, Newcastle

It is in derelict buildings or industrial units that large flocks of roosting pigeons are normally found. In some cases the volume of excrement produced as a result of years of roosting and breeding activity will be so great as to actually bring the internal floors down within the building. Incredibly, the last time the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle was accessed for the purposes of removing pigeon guano a total of 12 tons of guano was removed, all through one small manhole cover and in plastic sacks! This is, of course, an extreme example, but nonetheless it demonstrates just how entrenched guano-related problems can become if they are ignored or if they go unnoticed.

Disposable Overalls for Guano Cleaning

Disposable Overalls for
Guano Cleaning

When clearing guano from internal areas the likelihood is that it will be well-dried and in large quantities and therefore a health and safety risk assessment is essential to confirm what safety equipment will be required by those undertaking the removal operation.Protective Suit for Cleaning Guano

Protective Suit for
Cleaning Guano

When disturbed, well-dried guano will rise as dust and if breathed in can cause minor respiratory discomfort. If breathed in by someone with a pre-existing respiratory condition the effects can be more serious, although the chance of anyone with a serious respiratory condition undertaking a Protective Clothing

Protective Clothing

job of this nature is virtually nil. A risk assessment will confirm what level of protection is required and the options range from a basic paper face mask through to a full face mask with breathing apparatus. It may be helpful to read the ‘Cleaning and Sanitising’ product/service review, which can be found in the ‘Product Reviews’ section or clicking this link. This document will provide a basic overview of the types of protective clothing (and cleaning products) available for this type of work.

Disposable Gloves for Cleaning Guano

Disposable Gloves
for Cleaning Guano

As well as a face mask, a full body disposable suit with hood will be required. Rubber gloves should be worn at all times and hands should be washed thoroughly before eating or drinking, thereby requiring that washing facilities are available on-site. Goggles are a sensible precaution and a good pair of boots or wellingtons is essential. When working in enclosed spaces (particularly in roof voids) and during the summer months, temperatures can be extreme and therefore regular rest breaks should be taken as exhaustion can set in very quickly, particularly when wearing protective clothing.

Nitrile Rubber Gloves

Nitrile Rubber Gloves

Before starting cleaning works a detailed site inspection must be undertaken to highlight any potential dangers for workers (particularly when working in derelict buildings) and to establish whether there are any nests with pigeon squabs in situ. In a large-scale roost it is almost certain that there will be. Pigeon Squab and Egg in Nest

Pigeon Squab and
Egg in Nest

Nests will normally be found on the floor and rarely at height so it is important to take care when walking the site for the purpose of assessing it. Once all the nests with dependent young have been identified a wildlife rehabilitator should be contacted with a view to handing over all dependent birds for hand rearing. For large sites with more than a handful of nests, wildlife groups will normally attend the site prior to guano removal operations commencing and remove all the dependent birds at that time. The cleaning operation will then be able to continue without interruption. It should 3-Day Old Pigeon Squab

3-Day Old
Pigeon Squab

be noted that pigeons breed all year round and therefore there will never be a time when pigeon droppings can be removed without there being dependent birds in situ. It is also important to ensure that once all dependent birds have been removed cleaning works start immediately and wherever possible all entry/exit points should be blocked or the problem will simply re-manifest itself.

It is an offence to interfere with a nest or its contents and therefore, before taking any action to remove a nest, with or without eggs or chicks, permission must be sought from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Once the relevant permission has been sought and given nests and contents can be removed. A national list of wildlife rehabilitators, in a county-by-county format, can be found by clicking on the following link: http://www.veggies.org.uk/acd/europe/uk/rescue/rescue.htm.

The actual process of clearing the pigeon droppings just requires hard work and in large-scale internal roosts the best tool is a shovel. Prior to starting to remove the guano a fine jet of water should be sprayed over it in an effort to reduce the dust created when it is disturbed. It can then be more safely removed. Guano should be bagged or wheelbarrowed to a skip and then arrangements should be made to dispose of it via an authorised waste carrier, assuming that there are sufficiently large quantities. Alternatively, if clearing a small amount of guano from a residential attic it can be safely disposed of in a dustbin or wheelie bin or even on a garden or allotment. Guano is a superb fertiliser.

Once the guano has been completely removed the area should be cleaned with hot soapy water and disinfectant or with a branded ornithological disinfectant designed to kill any bacteria and organisms that may be present.

Further information on the identification of a problem and how to deal with it is available in a document called DIY controls that can be found via the left-hand margin on the home page or by clicking the following here.

It may also be helpful to read the Cleaning and Sanitising product/service review, which can be found in the ‘Product Reviews’ section or clicking here. This document will provide a basic overview of the various products and cleaning agents available for use with guano.

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