Every time the phone rings and the caller on the other end asks if we take care of birds, it causes me to focus. Although all raccoon-trapping jobs have their peculiarities, in many ways they are essentially the same. Bird complaints, I’ve come to find, are never the same. Unlike a raccoon-trapping job, you can’t have a standard fee that you charge. Bird jobs require work that is out of the ordinary for me, although I do a lot of them!
On a good day, the caller will simply have a bird in their basement they need captured. Conversely, the next bird call that comes in may be to remove one of thousands of federally protected birds nesting on the rooftop of a local business. Each job is a winner, although one requires “jumping through many more hoops” and man-hours than the other.
A WIDE RANGE OF JOBS. Looking at the bird removal jobs that I took on in 2018, I see everything from a $200 bird removal job to a multi-thousand-dollar contract. If you compared both jobs financially, it’s obvious that the multi-thousand-dollar job is the preferable one. Comparing the two when it comes to profits, however, tells me that I’d much rather take on many small jobs instead of one or two large jobs. The large jobs require many man-hours of work. They require special equipment; supplies from a company that specializes in bird exclusion products; inspections; and then bids and quotes before the job can be shopped. After landing the job, we need to completely focus on it while our other accounts take a back seat. This is not meant to discourage anyone from taking on these big jobs. You just have to remember to factor into the price all the business that you cannot do while your resources are focused on the big contracts.
My favorite nuisance bird call is from a homeowner that has birds entering their house through the bathroom exhaust fan vent. I normally quote the prices of these jobs over the phone. These birds are generally European starlings.
Starlings have the uncanny ability to fly up to a bathroom vent and flip open the little flappers with a quick flick of their beak. Once inside the ductwork, they will find the perfect place to build a nest and raise their young.
European starlings lay eggs once per year near the beginning of spring. Each nesting results in four to seven eggs. The male starling starts the nest and lures in a female with his impressive building skills. Together, they will continue to improve the nest by bringing in straw, grass, yarn, and any other items they can find that will improve their living quarters.
The longer the client waits to call about this problem, the better it is for my bottom line, as the nesting material will eventually either plug the ductwork entirely or burst the ductwork and allow the birds total access to the attic. It is not uncommon in these situations to remove two, three, or even four contractor-sized garbage bags of nesting material from the attic.
Taking on bird jobs of this nature requires work inside the home, as well as outside.
The outside work is generally the fastest. These jobs usually call for a tall ladder as most of these types of calls are for birds entering a vent in a two-story house.
DEALING WITH DUCTWORK. On many jobs, we find the small little flappers missing from the vent. Every once in a while we will find these single flappers on the ground. Occasionally, we take the flappers from a new vent and simply swap them into the old vent. Many times, however, we find the vents in such bad shape that they need to be replaced. This is an easy job, but it requires a little work from the attic first. The new vent has a minimal cost and takes little time to install once the damaged vent has been removed. You’re certainly going to want to sell a vent guard to prevent this situation from happening again. It’s an easy sell, as there’s not a single homeowner that wants to incur this problem and expense again. Make sure that you’re prepared to install the vent guard when the vent replacement is finished. Being prepared saves you additional trips up and down the ladder.
While doing the ladder work, it’s wise to have a spray bottle (filled with a mild cleaner) on your tool belt. Birds normally have defecated on the siding. This will take a little scrubbing, but make your finished job look much better. Although you may not think about it, most homeowners don’t hesitate to pay a little more for this service, so don’t forget to sell it.
If there were adult birds in the ductwork when you disconnected it from the attic, they usually exit their tubular home at that time. A good shake of the flexible ductwork before the disconnection sends them out into the bright blue sky. While you are doing your ladder work, you can be assured that “Mr. or Mrs. Starling” were watching you, especially if there are babies in the nest or a clutch of eggs. When you make your way into the attic, there should be no birds flying around inside, but scan the attic just to be sure. The last thing you want is a callback because the client hears a bird above their heads!
Flexible ducting comes packaged in 25-foot rolls. Our normal procedure is to remove the entire duct and replace it with brand new duct. The flexible ductwork will be full of nesting material, ectoparasites, bird droppings, cracked eggs, whole eggs, and possibly live young birds that cannot fly. One of the items that you will want in the attic is contractor-sized garbage bags. Dragging this mess down the scuttle hole and through the client’s home is not something we ever want to do. To disconnect the old ductwork, we usually take a small tool bag with us into the attic. I’ve seen the end of the ducts taped to the exhaust fan, clamped onto the exhaust fan, and also zip tied to the fan. This goes for the vent side too. A few times we’ll see sheet metal screws in use, so a good screwdriver is a must in our tool bag along with a pair of tin snips, some zip ties and a fresh roll of duct tape. You should consider using a headlamp for this work in order to keep your hands free. We also light the attic with a larger light right at the scuttle hole. If your headlamp dies or comes up missing in action, you’ll still be able to see to get out safely.
Once you have both ends of the ductwork free, it all goes in the garbage bag. Obviously, the ends should be held upright until they are in the bag, or you run the risk of performing a cleanup that wasn’t on the schedule.
The flexible ductwork will have to be cut to length and it usually has a stiff wire encircling it for stability. Your tin snips will make light work of this ductwork. Attach the new ductwork at both ends and your job could be done. I say “could” because most homes have more than one exhaust vent. Check the others for additional revenue opportunities! At the very least, any other vent should be excluded with a vent cover. Just like the offending vent with the birds, this is an easy sell and a quick install from the outside. You’re performing a service that the client either can’t do or doesn’t want to do, so charge accordingly.
Many times the birds will have packed the flexible ductwork so full of nesting materials that it will have burst open, giving the birds free access into the attic. If this is the case, there’s a good chance that there will be birds in the attic. It will be difficult to catch them as they certainly have the advantage. The best bet in this situation is to open a vent to the outside. The birds will be in panic mode and, when disturbed, will fly to the light. When they exit, reconnect the vent. There’s time and effort involved in this, so be sure to charge for bird removal.
CLEAN AND SANITIZE. The reason people don’t want birds in their attic is because birds are “dirty.” They defecate all over, leave foul-smelling odors, and harbor ectoparasites. Cleaning and odor control is part of the job that can (and should) be sold. Most homeowners have no desire to go into an attic, but pictures really sell the job. Obviously, nobody wants bird mites or other “bugs” in their home. Taking away the birds doesn’t mean that you have removed the bird mites. Soon enough, they may start searching elsewhere in the house for their next blood meal. Treating a home for ectoparasites brought in by birds can be the icing on the cake and another nice addition to the income stream.
While I’m speaking about all the reasons to clean up after birds have invaded an attic, let’s not forget our own health. It’s so easy to take the shortcut and pop into an attic without the proper personal protection equipment (PPE), but please don’t. Don’t turn your client’s emergency into your emergency. Suiting up in a Tyvek suit and adding some gloves and a respirator is so easy. Histoplasmosis is a very real threat to us. The airborne spores can cause a respiratory infection so bad that you can be hospitalized. In 1997, singer Bob Dylan had an experience with histoplasmosis. After he was finally released from the hospital and given a prognosis of a full recovery in four to six weeks, he said that he was so sick that he “really thought that I’d be seeing Elvis soon.”
For the little time that it takes to don our PPEs, it’s just not worth the risk to our own health! If I haven’t convinced you yet, please consider that attics are filled with fiberglass insulation. The dangers of breathing these fiberglass fibers is a subject that could use its own article! If the attic has other types of insulation, the particulate matter you stir up will cause numerous problems. Let’s not forget that all sorts of chemicals have probably been applied here. There will be no notice. Oh, and every attic that has had mice will have mouse droppings and dried urine. Wearing the PPE shields us from a whole host of dangers lurking in that attic.
LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES. Once the bird removal job is done, I challenge you to look around at the neighboring houses. Most homes in an area are built in the same style — and where you find one nest of starlings, you will find others. Look for the white streaks on neighbors’ siding. Look for bathroom vents missing the little flappers. There have been many times we have completed a job at one house and then, 20 minutes later, our ladders are set up on the house across the street! It’s really easy to sell the job by knocking on the door and explaining what you just did for Mrs. Kelly across the street. For example, saying, “I see that you have the same problem,” and then showing them the mess. Sometimes they know that birds are in there; most times they do not. Your knowledge of bird habits, dangers, and diseases will assure the homeowner that it’s the right thing to do — and it is!
Although my business provides bird removal services, this work is just a fraction of the pie; however, it’s a slice of the pie that I do not want to lose. Not many companies advertise for bird removal services. Don’t forget to include it in your marketing plans. I can’t tell you how many people who call are thrilled that they found someone that performs the service. In my opening line of this article, I mentioned a client asking if we get birds out of houses. That tells me that the client either didn’t read enough when looking for me, or that I have more work to do in telling the world that I want to help them get birds out of their house. Every call is a learning opportunity to better market our services.
If you don’t currently perform bird removal services, it is a good money-maker. I encourage you to get your feet wet. There are no two jobs that are exactly alike, and each one will take a little time and effort to come up with the right price. Your bottom line will see the benefit of adding this line of work to your service offerings.The author is owner of Advanced Wildlife Control (www.awcpro.com), Genesee County, Mich. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.