Boating Around Birds

Cormorants on spreader

Cormorants love sailboat spreaders

Most boaters enjoy the out of doors, nature, and the sight of birds, but when nature and birds get so close to our boats that they leave their signature calling card, guano—boaters fight back. Most boaters are fairly meticulous about their craft. So, to what extremes will you go to keep birds from making a mess of your boat? One thing is for sure, once they’ve become enamored by your floating bistro, they are hard to discourage. Why they pick any boat is hard to fathom, so here are a few ideas on how to make them pick another place to roost.


Osprey prefer mastheads

An informal survey around my harbor saw traditional and inventive forms of bird defenses–from whirligigs bought at the local West Marine, flags, pennants, and bird wires over spreaders, to the shiny CD-ROMs one creative boater slung over his boom, and even a spatula dangling from the rigging.


Moving in the wind and reflective, CD-ROMs protect this boat's boom

The real solution is to identify the kinds of birds attracted to your boat and array your defensive lines accordingly. Ospreys eat prodigious quantities of fish and prefer mastheads for perches. A pennant or streamer flapping in the wind there may get them to select another target. Cormorants, with their webbed feet, prefer spreaders, so bird wires may suffice. Seagulls, I have noted, seem to prefer powerboats or hard deck surfaces where they can drop mollusks from a height to crack them open. Not exactly a seabird, sparrows like to nest in the hollows of booms and because they like red berries, can make an exquisite mess of any boat, and also become quite defensive about letting you back on board near their nest.


Seagulls prefer hardtops

We might not be able to train birds to use a litter box, but make no mistake, they are smart. A blow-up snake or an owl statue may puzzle them for a while, but once they figure out they aren’t moving, back they come. I’ve photographed some of our local coastal defenses and would welcome your chiming in on the bird problems in your area—tell us what kinds of birds decorate your boat, and share how best to encourage them to go somewhere else for their johnny detail. We love to see birds, but we don’t want to be quite this intimate with them.


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