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Attic Attack: When birds declare war on your family
Bird condo in an attic of a home. - photo by Garth Haslem
Oh, spring. Its a time of hope and renewal. A time of brilliance, birds, buds and bulbs. Spring is the time when you can get out, meet your neighbors again, feel the breeze and listen to the birds sing.

But this time of year can have a less entertaining side. There are dandelions and wasp nests, and dont forget that you have to go hunting for step 1 fertilizer all over again.

Spring may be a similar experience for the critters around your property: Its a time for renewal for them as well. For these neighbors, there will be new nests, new family and more to eat. Being that these furry and feathered friends dont have to worry about fertilizing your lawn, they can settle in to populating and defending their nests from all threats. That perceived threat may include your family and guests.

Here's a look at some of the ways birds can work their way into your home, and what can be done about it.

At the entry

As a home inspector, I have become painfully aware of how swallows can defend their nest against two-legged intruders such as myself. At one home I was harassed and dive bombed into an eventual and very humiliating retreat. At first there were two birds that were unhappy I was there. Then there were 30. I found out the reason for their disapproval on my second visit: a chick in a nest near the front door.

In the attic

Bird issues are not limited to just the springtime installation of entry nesters. Birds can have a nasty habit of behaving like, well, birds. I was called out to a home to verify a termite problem. On arriving, I was able to quickly verify that an outer wall did in fact have the little monsters, and that the wall was wet. This was expected, as termites in the arid west require a water source to survive inside a home. I looked at the roof and found no location where roof leaks could happen above this area, so the next step was to look in the attic.

What I found was a bird mega-condo that stretched about 15 feet long and two to three feet high. It seems that these swallows were getting into the attic through an opening in the gable vent (unscreened vent on the side of the home) and making a very comfortable home up there. There was a similar nest condo on the other side of the attic as well. Each of these held hundreds of birds, and the urine from these nests was keeping the walls wet wet enough to support the termite colony in the wall beneath. The walls at this home must have had a special flavor for the termites.

The renters at this property not only had birds in the attic and termites in the walls, but urine and feces in an attic can cause lung problems in the living space. These kinds of conditions are not to be trifled with.

In the eaves

Sometimes the little two-legged critters can find a way in at a gap between the roof and exterior walls. Sometimes the gap is located between the walls and eaves. In a home I once purchased, some of the eaves were simply missing. For those of us city folks who think roosters are annoying in the morning, consider the joy of waking up early to the pitter patter of little bird feet in and out of the metal eaves, each cycle repeating every 3 minutes right outside the bedroom.

Other troublesome creatures

OK, so birds are not bats. But they do have wings, and theyre small, and they like your attic, and they leave deposits. They get in the same way as well, so were going to lump them in here.

I just inspected a home in Lehi that had a considerable infestation. After fighting my way into the attic and having a number of little items drop on me as I opened the attic hatch, I quickly discovered that the attic had large volumes of what looked at first like mouse feces. Yes, mice love your attic too. But what I noticed next was that there were no tunnels or surface paths typically found with mice. Then I noticed that the feces pretty much lined up under the crest of the roof. The area I was in was pretty thick about 300-400 feces per square foot. That was nothing compared to the area where they were getting in. That was covered a few inches deep in feces. And the smell? There was no question that this was an active infestation. While bats can do very good things for natural insect removal in an area, the feces in the living space are exceptionally unhealthy.

Most home related issues follow the $10/$10,000 rule: If you do the right thing early on, its usually cheap on the order of $10. If you wait, the price tag goes up. With birds and bats, the solution may be as simple as removing the nest when its being built, or sealing the hole at the eaves with a grabber screw or a bit of caulk. If you wait? Your home will be the neighborhood favorite this Halloween.