Cruising World - - Front Page - BY ROGER HUGHES

There are surely few things more up­set­ting to a proud boat owner than ar­riv­ing for a nice week­end only to find the decks cov­ered in bird drop­pings. This hap­pened to us on a reg­u­lar ba­sis be­cause the ma­rina where we kept Bri­tan­nia is next to a pub­lic park with lots of trees. Th­ese trees are full of black­birds, star­lings, crows and pi­geons, which roost and feed on the berries, then fly over and do their dirty work all over the boats. It’s a se­ri­ous prob­lem at this ma­rina be­cause, if the acidic ex­cre­ment is not washed off, decks can be per­ma­nently stained; paint­work and var­nish will dis­color; and can­vas, sails and ropes will rot.

The ob­vi­ous an­swer is to try and de­ter the pesky crit­ters from land­ing on your boat in the first place, but this is eas­ier said than done, es­pe­cially on a sail­boat with so many per­fect perches. Bri­tan­nia is a schooner, which has twice the po­ten­tial land­ing sites as a sloop, in­clud­ing a tri­atic stay be­tween the masts.

An ini­tial on­line search for “bird de­ter­rents for sail­boats” brings up a wide va­ri­ety of prod­ucts, all of which claim to do the job. There are also in­de­pen­dent re­ports and fo­rum threads deal­ing with spe­cific prod­ucts, which are not quite so ef­fer­ves­cent as some man­u­fac­turer’s claims. Prod­ucts range from the ubiq­ui­tous plas­tic owl (which I have ac­tu­ally seen a real bird sit­ting on) to so­phis­ti­cated de­vices such as an im­i­ta­tion peregrine fal­con kite de­signed to swoop in the breeze from a 15-foot pole.

Many de­vices must be re­moved when you want to go sail­ing. You ob­vi­ously can’t sail with some­thing whizzing around on your main or mizzen boom, so this type of thing needs to be eas­ily re­mov­able. Other prod­ucts, which fit on mast­heads, radomes, davits or spread­ers, can be left in place.

I sent a let­ter to 10 man­u­fac­tur­ers, ask­ing if they were in­ter­ested in sup­ply­ing any de­vices they had for sail­boats, and re­ceived prod­ucts from five. It can be quite com­plex and ex­pen­sive to de­cide which ones you need to cover each area of your boat. Here’s how the prod­ucts worked for me.

Be­gin­ning at the top and work­ing down:


Mast­heads are fairly easy to pro­tect. Stopgull has a prod­uct called the Top­mast, which is ba­si­cally a se­ries of spiky rods that ro­tate freely and un­bal­ance a bird try­ing to land. The rods can be ad­justed in height to clear a Win­dex, and if there is an an­tenna, rods can be re­moved to still al­low the de­vice to move a lit­tle. Some­thing sim­i­lar could also be home­made from stain­less wire and at­tached to the top of a mast.

A dif­fer­ent con­cept is the Bird Spi­der 360, which is made by Bird-b-gone. It con­sists of a se­ries of thin, wob­bly wires hang­ing like spi­der legs. Th­ese pre­vent birds from land­ing, but are not com­pat­i­ble with wind in­stru­ments. Both de­vices stop birds land­ing on mast­heads.

So far, so good.


One de­vice I tried for my 14-foot-long tri­atic wire was a preda­tory-bird de­coy made by Stopgull. This is a 24-inch-wing­span peregrine fal­con kite, fly­ing in a very real­is­tic man­ner from a length of ny­lon line off a 15-foot fiber­glass rod. I hoisted it to the top of my main­mast us­ing the gant­line, which en­sured it re­mained above the mast­head and didn’t tan­gle with the tri­atic. The kite flew in even a slight breeze, and did de­ter birds from com­ing near, even the osprey. How­ever, I don’t know how long it will last in a good blow. It was also dif­fi­cult to hoist and lower in any wind.

Gull­sweep sup­plied a ro­ta­tor, which hangs up­side down. I hoisted it be­tween my masts, hop­ing to get it high enough to frighten birds off the tri­atic, where I think it would have been quite ef­fec­tive, but my wind gen­er­a­tor was in the way. Any two-masted rig would need a hal­yard from each mast, along with a deck tether. Then it would be quite easy to hoist up and down. The prob­lem, of course, with all wind-driven de­vices is that they are use­less in a flat calm.


Here I used one “spiky rod” and one “spi­der.” I didn’t want to drill into the top of ei­ther plat­form, so I glued them on with epoxy. They were both ef­fec­tive in stop­ping birds land­ing, but I won­der if they will still be there af­ter the next big blow.


My main­mast spread­ers are each 6 feet long, and the fore­mast spread­ers are 5 feet, which is quite a length to pro­tect. Stopgull of­fered a wire to be at­tached to the cap shroud about 3 inches above the spreader and held taut at the mast by bungee cord. This pre­vented birds from land­ing, but bungee cord doesn’t hold up long in the Flor­ida sun. A stain­less spring would be more re­silient.

A sec­ond de­vice made by Bird-b-gone was a se­ries of plas­tic spikes fas­tened all the way along the spreader with cable ties. This also stopped birds land­ing. A sim­ple DIY ver­sion can be made by us­ing stain­less brads stick­ing up through a plas­tic strip strapped or glued to the spreader. The brads prick the birds’ feet, and they fly away.

Un­less you are very ag­ile (and also brave), you should per­haps em­ploy a pro­fes­sional rig­ger to in­stall th­ese things. At­tach­ing any­thing along spread­ers re­quires swing­ing pre­car­i­ously out along them. How­ever, once in­stalled, they don’t need to be re­moved.


I found the sim­plest de­vice to be long ro­tat­ing arms. Th­ese are avail­able in 6-foot and 8-foot di­am­e­ters and are mounted with ad­justable straps on a bare boom, or over a sail/cover. Straps are eas­ily un­clipped when you want to go sail­ing. They are avail­able from Bird-b-gone, Stopgull and Gull­sweep. They ro­tate in even a slight breeze and ef­fec­tively de­ter birds land­ing nearby — but only if there is a breeze! Bird-b-gone of­fers a so­lar-pow­ered ver­sion that works when there is no wind.


If you have clear­ance above your Bi­mini, ro­tat­ing arms would again be an ef­fec­tive

de­ter­rent. Stopgull of­fers an adap­tor that clamps through a can­vas Bi­mini. If you have a solid cock­pit top, or for any hard sur­face, a “sand­bag” adap­tor is made to mount a ro­ta­tor. This is heavy enough to stay in place and works on any flat sur­face.

I al­ways spread a sim­ple tarp awning over my main boom and Bi­mini when in port. This pro­tects the boom, the en­tire Bi­mini and part of the af­ter­deck against drop­pings from on high. Plas­tic tarps are avail­able in many dif­fer­ent sizes and rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive. They also pro­tect a can­vas Bi­mini against rain and sun in ad­di­tion to keep­ing the cock­pit cooler, but they can be tire­some to scram­ble un­der. Shade­tree Fab­ric Shel­ters sup­plied a very well-made Dacron awning sup­ported by de­mount­able flex­i­ble rods pass­ing through it from one side to the other to cre­ate an arch, clear of booms and sails. It made the aft sec­tion look a bit like a cov­ered wagon, but al­lowed easy com­pan­ion­way ac­cess. The clear­ance al­lowed wind to blow through, be­tween the awning and Bi­mini, and it didn’t flap around like a tarp.

A good rain shower will usu­ally wash bird drop­pings off awnings, but tak­ing them down and set­ting them up can be te­dious if you sail reg­u­larly.

Static de­vices placed on decks don’t seem to de­ter birds for long; they quickly re­al­ize the owl, ea­gle or snake is false. It’s things that move ir­reg­u­larly that frighten them away.

One pack­age from Birdb-gone con­tained a head­less and tail­less black cat. Af­ter assem­bly, which con­sisted of sim­ply shov­ing its head on one end and its tail on the other on wob­bly springs, it be­came quite a cute lit­tle sprog. I placed it on my deck, and no birds came near it. How­ever, it still didn’t stop them drop­ping their loads from above, and af­ter a few days, the poor thing be­gan to look like it needed a bath.


Stopgull makes 3-foot-long can­vas strips with plas­tic can­de­labra-look­ing spikes mounted ev­ery 3 inches. Th­ese ro­tate and up­set a bird’s bal­ance when it tries to land. They can be strapped along a rail, or bow or stern pul­pit, and don’t need re­mov­ing. I fit­ted one strip on the for­ward rail at the bow. Fit­ting them to the sides would have im­peded the jib. I fit­ted two more to my davit arms, which ef­fec­tively stopped birds land­ing, in­clud­ing pel­i­cans. They are also avail­able in self-ad­he­sive sin­gle units to stick on things such as nav­i­ga­tion lights.


All the above de­vices only pro­tected sec­tions of a sail­boat, but acous­tic de­ter­rents claim to cover amaz­ingly large ar­eas, even a com­plete ma­rina! I tried two very so­phis­ti­cated-look­ing units made by Bird Gard and Bird-b-gone.

A speaker emits dif­fer­ent dis­tressed bird calls, which causes birds to flee the area. Th­ese can be pro­grammed to up­set in­di­vid­ual species or ro­tate through a num­ber of com­mon types. One unit was so­lar-pow­ered for out­side use and sat on the deck. The other had two sep­a­rate speak­ers that I ran half­way up my masts on hal­yards. I tried each unit sep­a­rately. The calls are quite stri­dent, and Bri­tan­nia be­gan to sound like an aviary, where the ca­coph­ony soon be­come as an­noy­ing as the real bird cries. Vol­ume and du­ra­tion can be con­trolled, and they shut off au­to­mat­i­cally at night when birds are less preva­lent. But if you left one of th­ese de­vices squawk­ing all day, I can imag­ine there would be com­plaints — birds or no birds. Bird Gard’s model with sep­a­rate speak­ers seemed to be more ef­fec­tive over­all, but both units fright­ened the smaller birds that vis­ited.

Th­ese de­vices are much more ex­pen­sive than in­di­vid­ual prod­ucts (in the re­gion of $200 to $400), but upon adding up the cost of all the sep­a­rate de­vices needed to pro­tect a sail­boat com­pletely, the cost came to about the same.

There are many other prod­ucts: im­i­ta­tion snakes, the be­fore-men­tioned plas­tic owl and other quite im­pres­sive bird de­coys, shiny disks which flut­ter in the breeze, bal­loons and myr­iad other things. Some of th­ese struck me as more gim­micky than ef­fec­tive, but I did not test them.


In­di­vid­ual de­vices can pre­vent birds from perch­ing on mast­heads, spread­ers, radars, booms and rails, and th­ese un­doubt­edly re­duce drop­pings on decks. But birds still man­age to cling to rig­ging wires, even those that are ver­ti­cal.

The acous­tic de­ter­rents are the only things that cover a com­plete boat and are easy to set up and re­move. But even th­ese didn’t stop de­ter­mined birds from land­ing dur­ing the one- or two-minute in­ter­vals be­tween calls, and they def­i­nitely are noisy.

I fi­nally came to the con­clu­sion that the only way to keep a sail­boat’s decks en­tirely free from drop­pings is with awnings, which don’t rely on wind and are also silent.

Dur­ing this fas­ci­nat­ing re­view, Bri­tan­nia also at­tracted much cu­rios­ity with all its ap­pendages, es­pe­cially the fly­ing fal­con and spin­ning arms, which made it look like a drone ready to lift off.

The prob­lem even­tu­ally be­came so an­noy­ing that I de­cided to move Bri­tan­nia to a dif­fer­ent ma­rina. Af­ter all, that’s a ben­e­fit of hav­ing a boat. If you don’t like the lo­cals or the sur­round­ings, you can al­ways move.

Clock­wise from top left: Mast­heads are rel­a­tively easy to pro­tect from birds by us­ing th­ese ro­tat­ing rods. A spiky rod or spi­der-shaped de­vice can be glued on a radome. The spikes on the pul­pit are at­tached with Vel­cro. The fal­con kite worked, but was dif­fi­cult to take down.

An awning was the most ef­fec­tive way to keep the decks clean. From left: This one, made by Shade­tree, was well-made and stayed up in a breeze. The hang­ing ro­ta­tor was too low to keep the birds off of the tri­atic stay. Wind-driven de­vices are also use­less in a flat calm.

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