“There’s a baby bird in my oven!” the concerned caller reported. “How did it get in there?” she asked, “It’s not like we left the oven door open.”
Calls like this are not uncommon. Every year, many people seek help after birds nest in their houses, apartments, or office buildings. Most are not aware that cavity nesting birds, such as House Sparrows and European Starlings, have set up shop in vents, chimneys, and other openings in their homes. While chimneys and vents may be not be ideal for us, they make perfect sense to these birds. Unlike woodpeckers who excavate their own cavities, sparrows and starlings find or steal cavities from other birds. They are, therefore, used to making due with what is around them and they are very good at it.
In fact, it is this adaptability that has made both starlings and sparrows thrive in urban areas. Both birds were brought in small numbers to the United States in the 1800s. They now reside in almost every US state.
Sparrows were initially introduced with the intention of providing pest control. In 1852, citizens of New York formed a committee to ensure that their introduction would be successful (a previous attempt had already failed). At the time, New York was already a “concrete jungle” and was almost completely inhospitable to native birds. Consequently, there was no wildlife support to help control and eliminate cankerworms who were destroying city trees. New York citizens hoped that the House Sparrow would be able to survive; they had no idea it would thrive.
Starlings were introduced (also in New York) in 1890. A New Yorker named Eugene Schieffelin imported eighty starlings from Europe and released them in Central Park. Schieffelin was part of a small group of friends who were passionate about Shakespeare and deeply invested in bringing all the animals mentioned in his works to the New World. Attempts with others, such as chaffinches, nightingales, song thrushes, and skylarks failed. The success of the starlings, whose numbers are now in the hundreds of millions, was undeniable.
Sparrow and starling nests can cause a lot of problems. Dryer and stove vents often won’t work properly when birds have taken up residence. Because they don’t clear their nests from year to year nest material can accumulate and clog cavity spaces. If the nests happen to be in chimneys or vents, this can pose a fire risk. The birds themselves can also become stuck in chimneys and vents by falling into open spaces that don’t have an easy escape routes. One of the most common complaints with starlings and sparrows is that they cause a lot of noise, and certainly if you have a lot of them nesting on your property it can be extremely disruptive.
Most of these situations can be avoided simply by taking a few steps to make sure all entry points are closed and prevent the birds from building nests in the first place.
Since birds will begin looking for new nesting sites around the middle of February, now is the perfect time to begin bird-proofing your house. You should do a thorough investigation of your house’s exterior and locate all potential nesting areas. All cracks and obvious cavity spaces in roofs should be sealed and vents and chimneys capped.
Tristate Bird Rescue and Rehab Research recommends: If there are baby birds in the dryer vent, your best option is to line-dry clothes or take them to a Laundromat until the birds fledge in approximately 21 days. Once the birds leave the nest, remove all nesting material and cap the vent. Similarly, if a bird is nesting in your attic or soffit, we recommend that you wait until the baby birds have fledged and then repair the hole where they are gaining access.
For more information on how to prevent starlings and sparrows from nesting on your property, check out the Human Society’s website.