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No Party for Pests in the New Year

I have never been a big fan of New Years resolutions. My viewpoint is probably colored by the fact I have never been able to keep resolutions beyond the first week of January. In retrospect, my failures were mostly due to trying to immediately give up bad habits I had spent a lifetime cultivating, or solving complicated problems over which I really had no control. I suppose it didnt help that I frequently made these resolutions after a half-dozen martinis. In any event, this year may be different.

As I write this, it is just before Halloween and it appears to have snowed. That would not be unusual for many of you, except here in Southern California it is 85 degrees and hasnt actually snowed in the last hundred years. What looks, at first glance, to be off-colored snow is actually ashes, one-quarter-inch deep in places. Of course, I already know it is ashes because I watched for several hours as flames approached to within 150 feet of my house. I know somewhere in these ashes are what remains of several hundred homes and all the worldly possessions of thousands of people. I also know that in these ashes are, in part, the remains of 13 of my fellow human beings.

This year may be different because my resolutions will be simpler. This year, I resolve to truly appreciate what I have in this life and how fortunate I am to have it. If just one of you joins me in this resolution, all the work I put into getting this months article written will have been well worth it.

Anyway... When the fire broke out, I was putting the finishing touches on what surely would have been a Pulitzer Prize winning piece on how to eradicate the world of all vermin and pestilence using only water and sawdust. Unfortunately, an ill-timed power failure fried all my unsaved documents, so it will have to wait for another issue.

In the meantime, I am resorting to the old fallback we know as answering readers questions. Usually, those of us who write dont resort to doing this unless we have completely run out of ideas or have waited until an hour before the deadline to begin writing. You never want to use this journalistic mulligan this early in your run. Ideally, you would save it for when you spent your last week of deadline at the Craps table and main lounge at the MGM Grand. Fortunately, I have received a number of e-mails with some questions that bear being answered here.

Are those plastic owls I see at the garden shop effective in keeping pigeons away? If not, do you have any ideas?

Its interesting that three of the questions I received were about pigeon control. As a rule, visual devices like plastic birds of prey, foil streamers and such offer brief relief at best. It doesnt take pigeons long to figure out whatever you are trying to scare them off with wont actually eat them. Sometimes, just to show us who really runs this planet, they will cake the fake owl with poop and leave the surrounding area spotless. OK, maybe its a stretch to assume they are doing it to mock us, but after a day or so, the plastic bird is just another thing to sit on.

The same holds true for just about any device you might use to chase pigeons off. A number of large airports spent a pile of money on noise cannons, literally large gun-like devices that emit a loud boom-type noise to scare away pigeons and seagulls. After a few days, the birds would merely jump a few feet at the sound of the cannon firing. Soon, birds that frequented the area learned to ignore the sound. Worse yet are those so-called ultrasonic devices. The only chance of gaining any control using ultrasonic bird repellants is if the pigeon laughs itself to death.

As with many pests, the best way to keep pigeons away is to eliminate nesting places and roosting spots. Eaves and gables can be relatively easily covered with some sort of netting. Anti-roosting devices come in several forms, the most popular being a spike strip that can be attached to any surface a bird might sit on. Spike strips can be easily installed by the property owner and cost roughly 45 cents per linear foot.

Finally, controlling birds with chemicals or poison should be done only as a last resort and is best left to someone who is licensed. In many places, it is illegal for an unlicensed person to use poison in the control of nuisance birds.

A few years ago, there was a lot of stir about the impending killer bee invasion. Was it much ado about nothing or are we still doomed?

Africanized honey bees were first reported in the United States in 1990 and, by the beginning of 2003, had spread to most southwestern states. There have been a few fatalities due to attack by killer bees and a few dozen other incidents resulting in injury to humans. The big concern was Africanized bees would mate with the native honey bees and genetically infect them with whatever evil genes make the African bees so nasty. It would appear the opposite has happenedgood winning out over evil, so to speak.

Make no mistake about it, Africanized bees are dangerous creatures, and if you I live in an area where they have been reported, dont mess with anything that looks like a swarm of bees. (Good idea, Captain Obvious!) Chances are, if you live in a warm southern state, they are on their way. Are you doomed? Yes, we all are. But even if you live in an area with a known Africanized bee population, your chances of being stung to death are pretty slim.

I dont know if this is a pest-control question, but I have several stray cats that prowl around my facility. They do occasionally catch rats and mice, but some of my tenants have complained about smelling cat urine and feces. My local animal-control office hasnt been much help. Is there anything I can do to humanely rid my property of this problem?

Feral cats are very much a pest-control problem. While they may have some minor value as a method of rodent control, they will introduce more pests than they will consume. In addition to carrying diseases that can be transmitted to domestic pets, they carry parasites, like ticks and fleas, which can transmit disease to humans. In addition, there is undoubtedly a percentage of your customer base that is allergic to cats.

Your best bet is to use live-catch traps. These devices are cage-like traps baited with cat food, with a spring loaded door that closes behind the animal when it enters to take the bait. While you can purchase them, many animal- rescue organizations will let you borrow them at little or no cost, and take the cats off your hands for a small fee. With a little luck and a lot of patience, you should be able to handle this situation without shelling out a pile of money. In the interim, make sure they dont have any alternative food sources like open dumpsters or trash cans.

Thank you all for the questions and comments. Your feedback goes a long way in determining what I discuss here. If you have any ideas on subjects for future columns, Id like to hear from you.

Ken Berquist is a field representative at R&D Pest Services in San Diego. For more information, e-mail [email protected].

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