Editor’s note: In December 2021, Rolando “Rolie” Calzadilla, owner/operator of Pest Wildlife Pro, Miami, Fla., had a teachable moment after being called by a property management group to remove nuisance geese from a Miramar, Fla., community. The job did not go as planned and homeowner reaction led to a public relations nightmare for Calzadilla. It turned out that the city where Calzadilla was performing the work was considered a “bird sanctuary city,” so the lesson Calzadilla learned was to check not only state and federal laws, but to reach out to local city code enforcement officials. In the following article, Calzadilla shares this teachable moment and also provides recommendations for live bird removal from his 17 years controlling birds.
The entire pet bird vs. pest bird dynamic became very personal for me late last year when a goose removal went sideways in a very public way. You can do your own research about that incident and draw your own conclusions. This article is not necessarily about what happened, but rather what I learned and how it all boils down to the people who were feeding the geese.
It’s hard for the bird feeders to understand they are at the root of most of the pest bird challenges we are called to resolve because, in their minds, they are helping the birds and are committed on an emotional level. But what about the person who can’t sleep at night because there is a gaggle of geese making alarm noises all night under their bedroom window? Or what about the person who can’t let their grandchildren play in the lawn because it’s a minefield of goose droppings? Is this person also committed and emotional? You bet, but for very different reasons! It’s easy to focus on this person since they are our customer. But they are a symptom. The cause could be in a different subdivision 300 yards away. Or, on the other side of a canal, someone is feeding the geese on the water from their pristine lawn.
Except for pollinators, most people in our industry get very little pushback from clients and the general public about killing bugs. Some people might object to killing rats, but it’s easier for them to understand the risks. Not birds though; they are literally an entirely different animal!
Before we talk about birds though, it is important to note that all birds, regardless of whether or not they are considered a pest, are entitled to humane treatment and protection against cruelty. So, we don’t “kill” pest birds; we humanely euthanize them and only when it’s legal and necessary.
Relocating birds is less controversial and possibly better for business (if those same birds move to the yard of someone who wants them removed). Relocation can be done with exclusion, repellents or scare devices, but for this article we will be talking about situations when we are physically removing a bird or group of birds that are being a pest in a public setting. Here are some things about bird control you need to consider — things you wouldn’t think about when controlling rats, for example.
LEGAL PROTECTION. There are more than 2,000 species of birds in North America, and the vast majority are protected. In general, migratory birds are protected by federal law and native/indigenous birds are protected by state law.
When it comes to local laws, all bets are off. Some municipalities declare the entire city or town a “bird sanctuary,” and dealing with them can get dicey. One of the challenges with my goose removal job that went sideways was that I believe the city is run by people who are closer to the pet side of the dynamic than the pest side.
Although the species of goose was not protected on a state or federal level, all birds within this city’s limits are protected and, in this case, the city itself should have been treated as the bird feeder. Make sure you are familiar not only with all the laws (federal, state and local), but with the people in your work area enforcing them, right down to the code enforcement department at the local level. Take it from me, it’s sometimes better to ask for permission than to beg for forgiveness!
ANTHROPOMORPHISM. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions or characteristics to nonhumans.
Someone who keeps a bird as a pet, has a backyard bird feeder or is an avid birdwatcher will devote a lot of attention to birds, enjoying how smart and amazing they are. Heck, it’s hard to not look into the eyes of a pigeon that is watching you as intently as you are watching it and not ponder what it’s thinking.
If we choose to remove birds professionally, we must learn to deal with the differences that one letter makes between pet and pest and, if we must, treat them like we would a rat that is creating risks in a client’s home or place of business (assuming it’s a bird species that you can legally take).
THE BIRD CONTRADICTION. People’s love of birds can cause a lot of contradictions in thought. For example, “I love birds, but I hate their poop.” Another relevant phrase I made up is, “No. 2 is No. 1.” In other words, the No. 2 that birds drop is the No. 1 reason some birds can be considered pests. Yes, it is possible to love birds and hate their poop! Use this dynamic to empathize and educate a client or someone who is opposing their removal. It almost always comes down to their poop, and I find that humor can sometimes break the ice and help people understand.
MOBILITY. Unlike rats, where mobility is expressed in feet or even yards, a bird’s mobility can be expressed in miles. Even the smallest pest bird, such as a house sparrow, can easily travel 5 miles a day. This is important to understand because wild birds don’t need people for food, even though they may seem lazy and appreciate the food they are being given.
We can use this to our advantage if we are going to trap them. But they don’t need people to feed them, and this is something else we can use to educate our clients. Geese are much bigger than house sparrows and can travel a lot farther for food. Feeding them bread and crackers is not only bad for their health, but it teaches them to lose their natural fear of people, making them aggressive while unnaturally growing their population to unsustainable numbers.
HUMAN BEHAVIOR. One of my favorite sayings about our business is that “people can be our biggest pest.” This includes people who feed wildlife, leave doors open or have unsanitary surroundings.
Dealing with people who are feeding birds can be the most challenging part of the job. Remember, these are the people who most consider the pest birds you are being called to remove a “pet.” Ask yourself if a job can be done at night or on a Sunday, when the location might be closed.
What is the most discreet way to do the removal while keeping the birds in the location where they are being a pest and away from the people who consider them a pet? If you cannot legally do the removal in a way that will not be seen by the pet people, then you must communicate with your client to identify and inform them of the consequences of their feeding actions.
FINAL THOUGHTS. The technical part of finding and executing the solution is oftentimes the easiest part of bird work. Communication, client education and documentation also play an important role and are oftentimes overlooked.
The reason my December goose removal job went sideways was not necessarily because of something I did wrong from a technical aspect; it was from not identifying, communicating and educating the bird feeders. By the time I met them, the situation was toxic. Ultimately, I learned that it’s OK to walk away from some jobs, and I’d like to think that with what I know today, I would have done just that with this one.
If you are going to engage in this type of work, I recommend you get trained. Reach out to the suppliers of bird products and especially to the National Wildlife Control Operators Association (NWCOA). There is a lot of value in the information they provide. Feel free to also reach out to me if you have any questions or just want to have a conversation about this subject.