By Cameron Riddell, Bird Barrier America, Inc.
On a graceful finger of sand in the blissful city of Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, three brand new luxury condominium towers soar more than 40 stories above the sand. It’s no wonder they are the tallest, most visually striking structures in the area; they were built by Trump—yes, that Trump. Luxuriously appointed units range in size from just over 1,400 to 6,000 square feet, and boast private elevator foyers, balconies and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean or the Intracoastal Waterway through floor-to-ceiling windows. Recession notwithstanding, units in the Trump Towers, Miami, sell for just under $600,000 to around $2 million.
But those with a taste for the finer things in life aren’t the only ones moving into the Trump Towers. A decidedly unwelcome tenant has also discovered the view from the Trump balconies—turkey vultures. Tipping the scales at six pounds with a wingspan that can reach six feet, these carrion-eating birds are almost no one’s idea of desirable neighbors. While they live a migratory lifestyle in some parts of the country, in warm, sunny Florida, the birds reside year-round. Once they settle in a spot they like, the vultures can be very difficult to dislodge.
“These towers are the tallest buildings in the area, and at one point there were more than 200 birds roosting on the balconies of one building,” said David Aponte, a lifelong resident of the Miami area and owner of Home Care Pest Control in Biscayne Park, Florida. A picture is worth a thousand words, and Aponte has the images to prove just how many turkey vultures wanted to call the Trump Towers home. Videos and still photos shot of the infestation show the shimmering white balconies of the towers covered with the large, black forms of hundreds of turkey vultures.
Like many wild creatures forced to live in close proximity to humans, Sunny Isles Beach vultures have become habituated to being around people. So they weren’t particularly bothered by the human residents of the Trump Towers. For the birds, the towers’ balconies offered a commanding view of the area and potential food sources, and also ensured safety from any potential predators—in short, they were perfect roosting spots.
The humans were not nearly as pleased with the arrangement. While turkey vultures are generally considered to be non-aggressive (and, indeed, Aponte confirms that they would immediately fly away when approached by a human), fecal matter, feathers and bits of leftover meals are not only unsightly, but can pose a health risk to humans coming into contact with the birds’ roosting areas. While the birds tended to abandon a balcony once a unit was sold and the new owners moved in, the situation didn’t spare residents from the birds’ unpleasant aroma and droppings, especially if one lived under a unit still occupied by the vultures.
Further tipping the balance in the birds’ favor was the fact that in Florida, and many other states, turkey vultures are a protected species. It is illegal to harm the birds in any way, even if they’re ruining the atmosphere of your multi-million-dollar condo tower.
No ‘shore’ solution
There was simply no question that the birds had to go. On top of the cosmetic, health, image and cleanup issues they created for the property owners, the vultures also posed a risk of damage to sensitive, expensive equipment housed on the rooftop of the buildings. Vulture feces, like droppings from many types of birds, are caustic. If the birds damaged rooftop equipment, it could cost the building owners hundreds of thousands to repair or replace it, Aponte said. And the cost of cleaning up after the birds was around $200 per unit, per day. In this economy, even The Donald might blink at those costs.
As is often the case when property owners try to evict a bird infestation, building owners tried several tactics that ultimately proved unsuccessful. Simply shooing the birds away and cleaning up after them was a momentary solution, at best. And sight-deterrent devices, like scarecrows or plastic statues that look like predators, didn’t do much to dissuade the city-savvy vultures. With groups of 20 to 40 birds roosting on a single balcony at a time, perhaps the birds felt there was strength in numbers. Whatever the reason, sight-deterrents left them completely undeterred.
After a few failed attempts at self-solving their turkey vulture problems, Trump Towers operators finally called a general contractor for help. That contractor referred them to Aponte, who turned to a product he’d used successfully in the past—the Bird Barrier Bird Shock Flex-Track. The low-profile ledge deterrent system uses a low-charge electrical pulse to deter pest birds. It conditions birds to stay away by using the principle of fear and flight. The birds are not harmed, only shocked just enough to drive them away. Convincing current and potential interlopers that the balconies were no longer a desirable spot for them is a far more effective and lasting solution.
Aponte conducted a test to demonstrate to Trump Towers owners how effective the Shock Flex-Track could be. His team installed the track on a handful of test balconies, then spent several days video recording the vultures’ reactions to the deterrent. The final cut is impressive: Aponte’s video shows a vulture landing on the track and immediately taking flight again as it receives the high voltage, low amperage intermittent shock. The video was worth a thousand words, or at least a couple of hundred turkey vultures. Tower owners are having Aponte install the track on an as-needed basis.
The track has an extruded, flexible PVC base with two stainless steel, braided conductors sewn to the base. It comes in 50-foot rolls and is available in five colors to match most applications. At 1.5 inches wide and a quarter-inch tall, the product is invisible from below. The manufacturer offers solar and plug-in chargers that connect to the track and send the pulse to the birds’ feet.
While the Shock Flex-Track is normally used in settings where human contact will be minimal or unlikely, Aponte had to adapt the installation to accommodate human occupation as well. Aponte’s team rigs the track to sensors on the balcony doors. When a person opens the door, the sensor cuts power to the track, helping ensure no person will experience the same shock that keeps the vultures away. Power doesn’t go back on until the door is securely shut again. In a true “belt and braces” approach Aponte has also installed warning signs on the railings, notifying owners and visitors of the track’s presence, further protecting those who might venture out onto the balcony and close the door behind them.
Not only is Aponte’s installation proving effective, it’s also green as well. Rather than drawing electricity from the building, each installation is wired to a small solar-collection unit. In sunny Florida, no Trump Tower condo owners need ever spend a dime to power the track that will keep unwanted birds off their home’s balcony.
As cities and human populations continue to grow, so will the problem of birds roosting in inappropriate places. In virtually every instance of bird infestation, lethal methods ultimately fail. Deterrence is the only lastingly effective, environmentally responsible and humane way to manage a bird problem.
The Humane Society agrees. “(Bird Barrier’s) approach to using electric shock to deal with problem birds has been, in our opinion, well thought-out,” said John Hadidian, director of urban wildlife programs for the Humane Society of the United States. “We retain a high regard for their conscientious and considered approach in such matters.”
Cameron Riddell is president of Bird Barrier America, Inc., a manufacturer of bird repellent products headquartered in Carson, Calif.