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Lots of bugs to swallow



The warm days of spring fill the air with -- I should write something lovely and enjoyable here, but I will be realistic -- bugs.

Let's face it, unlike the colder seasons, spring and summer are a time for insects. They crawl or hatch from moist soil, ponds, streams, behind bark and the underside of twigs to flit, flutter and fly through the delightful vernal air.

To some, flying insects are a necessary evil, but to others, they are breakfast, lunch, dinner and an anytime snack. Those others are insectivorous birds, and there are many.

Indeed, most of the birds that migrate into our region in the spring come here for the insects. Warblers, swifts, flycatchers, vireos, kinglets, gnatcatchers, thrushes, waxwings and swallows are all voracious insect feeders. Some of our year-round species change their diets in the spring. Titmice, chickadees and others give up seeds and turn to bugs.

Part of the delight of bird watching is observing the various ways in which birds feed on insects.

Warblers work the outer branches of trees when they are in flower. There the birds capture tiny insects as the bugs clamber over the blooms in search of their own meal. Flycatchers perch at the ends of limbs watching for larger flying insects passing by. When they spot a juicy fly, beetle or some other insect, they launch into the air and capture the bug on the wing. Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and others look for insects crawling on the trunks of trees or hiding in bark crevices. They wander vertical surfaces to probe and poke recesses, pulling out soft caterpillars and beetle larva.

The most graceful of the avian insectivores are swallows and swifts.

Western Pennsylvania is the summer home to six breeding species of swallows. These include the tree, northern rough-winged, barn, cliff, and bank swallows and the purple martin.

Swallows are supreme fliers. Their long, pointed wings, forked tail and relatively short body give them an aerodynamic advantage for catching insects on the wing. They are often found in loose flocks swooping and diving over streams, rivers, ponds and lakes picking off insects emerging from the water.

I vividly remember spending spring evenings with the late Joe Grom, naturalist at North Park in Pittsburgh, sitting on a picnic bench at the edge of North Park Lake watching large migrating flocks of swallows. From that vantage point, we were often able to see all six Western Pennsylvania swallows in a single evening.

Of the six, the purple martin is the largest native swallow. They are famous for their communal roosts. For many years, there was a huge purple martin house in Somerset. The nest box was fashioned after the iconic Somerset County Courthouse near which it stood. Unfortunately, tropical storm Agnes in 1972, dumped torrential rain on the Laurel Highlands for a week. Rain is a problem for flying insects, and very few were in the air for seven days.

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Pigeon Spikes…Pest Birds get the Point


On a one-on-one basis, pigeons are some of our finest feathered friends. During World War II, they helped carry critically vital messages across enemy lines. But en masse, they make a mess. So much so that feeding them was banned in many cities. They left their deposits on our finest statues and building facades. Tennis players at Wimbledon were often distracted by pigeons swooping down on Centre Court. In some cases marksmen were hired to shoot down the dive-bombing pests. But environmentalists came to their rescue. Finally, man was forced to come up with humane alternatives to deter the beloved pigeon. One of the most effective is the pigeon spike.

This low-tech method of pigeon control became the modus operandi for all those who could no longer deal with these pests and their unwanted deposits. The truth is, the pigeon spike couldn't have come a day too soon for home and boat owners, property and city managers, architects, churches, sports fans and ballpark owners, the list goes on and on.

Who can blame them? Your typical pigeon dumps approximately 25 pounds of poop annually. The high concentration of uric acid found in pigeon poop can discolor paint, stain wood, erode metal, even turn concrete and expensive stonework to crumbling dust. Pigeon poop is expensive to remove, especially from hard-to-reach areas. Crews with boom lifts and steam hoses can take days to remove the stains from large building facades. The pigeon spike helps control the damage this feathered pest is costing America-estimated at over $1.1 billion a year.

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Barcelona Pleads for help with pest control

By: thinkSpain , Monday, August 10, 2009

The city of Barcelona has admitted that it needs the people's help in the face of ever-increasing plagues of pigeons, rats and tiger mosquitos affecting the area.

The city's Public Health Agency has requested help from the citizens after admitting that the measures taken so far 'have not had the desired effect'.

Barcelona has one of the densest populations of pigeons in Europe, with almost 6,000 birds per km2 compared with an average of only 500 per km2.

Victor Peracho, in charge of zoonosis (the transmission of disease from animals to humans, or vice versa) for the Public Health Agency, blames 'the people who feed the pigeons' for the massive increase in numbers, saying that despite the tens of thousands captured each year, there can be 'no short-term solution' while people continue to feed the remaining birds.

Since feeding pigeons is not against the law, the town council has initiated a pilot project this summer, distributing leaflets in certain areas of the city advising people of the downside of encouraging pigeons by feeding them, citing the deterioration of buildings and the risk of contracting diseases like salmonellosis from the birds.

The number of tiger mosquitos has also increased rapidly, especially in the rural areas of the city, but fumigation is not an option as it only lasts a few hours.  Penacho is hoping the tiger mosquito problem will diminish naturally as people start to develop immunity to its venom after only one sting.

Rats, however, are a problem across the whole city, especially in tunnels and where sewers have been left open for building works. Up until now, the rat population been kept underground, rather than reduced, but the huge construction sites around the new AVE and line 9 of the metro have led to a massive increase in the number of rats coming out into the open.

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