Before you start wondering if I have completely lost the plot, STOP!
Now for someone who is very ‘boat proud’ and who thinks her boat is the most beautiful boat in the world, this has been extremely distressing.
I’ve had Wildwood for 14 years this year, and she has been on the same mooring that whole time. Apart from the odd seagull attempting to make a nest on her a few years ago, I have never really had any problems with birds. The seagull was a big issue at the time, but was easily managed with a few fish n chips – you can read all about that here…
Then a couple of years ago, a few little birds started to come and roost on board. Not too much of a drama. I bought an owl and a magpie and that seemed to do the trick. They went away.
Life was good again.
Sophie with Owlie & Maggie
But it turns out swallows aren’t silly…
They came back – with a vengeance. My poor boat soon became the favourite place to roost at night. I am not sure what it was that these damn birds eat – vindaloo or something because their poo was super sticky, baked on in the summer sun, and clearly there were hundreds of them as even after a week of being away I’d come back to a boat absolutely COVERED in bird shit – including all over the heads of the owl and magpie – they had been sitting on them too!
And this is after just one week!
In fact, the photos above aren’t even the worst of it. It got to the stage where I could smell the boat before I even got there.
I tried everything…
Plastic bags or CD’s tied on the lifelines. These actually worked really well and I made sure they were well secured so that they didn’t blow off and in to the water. But the boat looked like a Chinese laundry, and eventually the birds got used to them too and would roost in between the bags on the lifelines.
Safety flags strung up all around the boat. The birds seemed to really enjoy roosting on the strings and these had no effect whatsoever
Look at the state of my sail cover!!!
I also had a net – like what you would put over your strawberries. When strung tightly across the boat (kind of like the boat in the background of the pic above) the birds just roosted on that and made even more of a mess.
If you didn’t string the net up tightly and bunched it loosely, it was quite a bit more effective, but it did mean that you ended up catching the birds – like fish in the net. Which I admit I did feel guilty about (for aprox 1 second). I really don’t like killing things, but these birds have completely destroyed my deck paint job which took us weeks to do just a couple of years ago.
I even tried poisoning them with rat bait – they didn’t touch it.
Some people suggested plastic snakes on the deck, but we don’t have snakes in New Zealand, so I don’t know that our birds would be afraid, and I expect they would figure that out eventually as well like they did with the birds.
Another person suggested shooting them. I haven’t got a gun, and I expect you’d have to be a pretty good shot to be able to kill the hundreds of swallows that would descend on my boat at twilight. Plus I couldn’t guarantee I’d miss and put a hole in a neighbour’s boat instead.
You can also get spinning wing things – but we get some pretty decent storms rolling through here at 43°S and I wasn’t convinced it wouldn’t blow itself apart in the first big blow. Then there is the problem of where to mount it as the birds seemed to really love the lifelines and cockpit the most.
Every week I would go out, quietly hoping that the plastic bags/owls/magpies/net/poison/flags had somehow miraculously worked this time, getting to within 20 metres of the boat and seeing the brown shit stains seeping down the topsides, getting that awful smell catch in your throat, wanting to cry, spending at least two hours scrubbing the boat before getting it even semi-presentable while occasionally sobbing, going out sailing for a couple of hours, coming back to the mooring, packing up the boat, re-rigging all the anti-bird devices, kidding myself in to thinking that “this time it would work” jumping in the dinghy and thinking that the boat looked terrible with all the things hanging off her – just as the hundreds of pesky little swallows started swooping and diving and perching on the boat, crying a bit again, going to the club, smelling like bird shit, going home for showers and detoxification of clothing.
And then doing all that again a week later.
My friend Craig recommended going and picking up a cat from the SPCA and leaving that out there. Good suggestion, but I thought that I would then be dealing with cat fur and cat poo instead…
It was driving me mad. Andrew (let’s just say he is a Virgo and let’s leave it at that) came out on one particularly bad day and got very snippy about the whole issue… drastic action needed to be taken otherwise he was threatening to not come out on my boat any more!
I did some googling and picked up the phone to Maintrac Group on Monday morning tears welling up in my eyes, a kind sounding man answered the phone “Please” – I said, “Please you have to help me…”
If you google “anti-bird” devices then you get all sorts of things come up – some goo or powder stuff you can put down that they don’t like to stand in – neither of which are particularly useful on an boat. Perhaps spikes all over the life lines? Then you get noise things, but its difficult to install that somewhere, where it won’t get wet and still project the noise out over the boat, and then how do you power that without it running your batteries flat and not annoying everyone around you.
I wasn’t sure that he was going to be able to assist me.
He sounded sympathetic, listened to the hysteria in my tone of voice and then made some recommendations. By this stage I was ready to spend just about any sum of money to get this issue dealt to.
Then he recommended magnets.
My friend Don from a neighbouring boat had already mentioned that they were using some magnets, but I had brushed that off as being a bit of jiggery-pokery. Anyway I parted with a vast quantity of money and two days later a small box arrived on my doorstep.
I eagerly unwrapped it, inside were two sparkly magnets and some instructions. I called Andrew to give him the good news. “Hmmmmmmm…” he said skeptically. In his own words he muttered: “I’d be very surprised that the swallows were ‘New Age’ swallows – into magnets and god knows what else….”
Anyway… we strung them up according to the instructions, and crossed our fingers.
And today… I came back – to a boat almost completely free of bird poo for the first time in what must be two years.
Clean deck after one week of magnet use!
How does it work? No idea… but apparently birds have their own internal magnets that get a bit upset by these powerful ones. You can read more about that here. You have one at the bow and one on the stern and WOW it has absolutely worked for me (so far).
I was so excited and the happiest girl in the world. I also had an extra couple of hours on my hands as I now didn’t need to scrub poo off the boat. So I decided to have a beer to celebrate with my owl. He was just as surprised as I was that these magnets worked. Just look at the expression on his face!
- Easy to install.
- Doesn’t require any ongoing power or maintenance.
- Won’t annoy everyone around you like a sound scaring device does.
- Don’t blow away in first big storm (unless you don’t tie them on properly…)
- Works on lots of different bird types (swallows in my case)
- If you’ve got a pacemaker they can interact with the function of that, so beware! They are also dangerous to magnetically coded credit cards and computers.
- The magnets affect the geomagnetic field that birds use, and their sense of direction, so they avoid going near them. They won’t get used to them either (unlike my plastic owls and magpies)
- They are safe and do not scare or harm the birds or any other animals or the environment.
- Install them away from magnetic objects (like your compass!)
- Hang them high up, away from things that they can bang in to on a non-magnetic line
And then we went out and had an awesome mid-winter sail, and life was good again.
I just hope they keep working!
Here is what I bought here: https://www.maintracgroup.com/collections/magnetic-repellers
*** UPDATE *** – one week later and I can definitely say that the magnets do work and that the birds haven’t just migrated north for the winter. Unfortunately I had to learn the hard way…
When I got to the boat on Sunday there was no sign of the back magnet. There was quite a big storm during the week, so I expect the knot must have come undone on the line it was hanging on. Shame it didn’t drop in to the boat! Either that or someone pinched it. Anyway it was gone and guess what…?
The poo was back 😦
I have centered the one that is left and hope that it will work in the mean time (the bow was certainly cleaner than the cockpit where the other one went missing from.)
Looks like I am giving Maintrac Group another call…!
Two months on now, new replacement magnets installed, and I am sooooo pleased with how they have performed. The two magnets are now attached by a cable tie so I don’t lose another one.
Just to give you another comparison pic:
BEFORE Magnets – by the way this was only one week since last 2 hour scrub down… 😦
And AFTER Magnets – photo taken just the other day.
I’ve still got the completely useless net on as I haven’t got round to taking it off yet. It was a perfect perch for the birds to sit on while they shat all over the boat.
Some people have found cheaper magnets online and are going to give them a try and let me know how they get on. I am well beyond any more experimenting – so if you are desperate like I was, and need a solution now – then I can highly recommend the Main Trac ones linked in the post above.
Happy to answer any questions – comment below. I will be sure to let you know if they stop working!