Messy birds – a reader’s question

A very unusual question

I get regular comments from readers here on this blog. That’s great and I enjoy hearing from my many readers. I also get many questions about birds, either through the comments section or via the contact form. Most of these are reasonably straight forward queries, some of them need a little research to find the answers. Today I had a very interesting question from a reader.

I don’t want to mention names, or even quote the question and background information I was given. It is probably the most unusual question I’ve been asked. It seems that in a southern NSW town there is a legal dispute between neighbours, one of them accusing the other of throwing moss from his roof gutters on to his driveway and making a mess.

A relative of one of them asked me whether it was birds causing the problem. Below is my answer.

In actual fact it could be any number of birds that are the culprits. I would most certainly think that a bird or birds of some sort are responsible for the mess being created.

Peewees (Magpie Larks) are near the top of my list. They are always mucking about in our gutters. What is more, they make a mud nest and moss would make a lovely lining. It would also help bind together the mud they are using.

It could also be Australian Magpies, though I doubt if they are using it as nesting material. They tend to use only sticks – but then, they don’t read the books about how they are supposed to behave. Wool and cloth have been used – so why not moss?

Both of the above species could also be searching in the moss for tidbits to eat, things like worms and beetles.

Another possible culprit is the Common Blackbird. They are notorious for flicking mulch from gardens on to paths and driveways in their attempt to find a feed. Drives some people crazy. Again, they could be looking for food in the moss, but they too could use it as a nesting material. Common Starlings also do the same.

Other candidates include Currawongs, Ravens, Thrushes, Swallows (mud nest), White-winged Choughs (mud nest) and I wouldn’t be surprised at any of the flycatcher family using moss, including the Willie Wagtail, the Rufous and Grey Fantails. I should also mention the robins – of the 5 different species in your area, all but one use moss to line their nests. Superb Fairy-wrens also use moss.

This list comes from just a quick flip through a field guide – there are probably many more I haven’t listed. And remember, birds don’t read the guide books – they are all capable of behaviour not mentioned in the books.

So, as you can see, there are many possibilities. You just have to catch the culprit in the act!

Male Flame Robin, Mt. Macedon, Victoria

Male Flame Robin, Mt. Macedon, Victoria


7 Responses to “Messy birds – a reader’s question”

  1. Ken Rolph says:

    Our neighbour has round white pebbles up the middle of his driveway. Magpies seem to love these. Every week they try to make off with some and often underestimate their capability. So we regularly walk around the yard and pick up white pebbles that have been dropped in flight. Sometimes they come down on the roof with a thump. When we first moved in we thought it was kids throwing stones on the roof.

    At present I’m trying to discourage some Indian mynas from nesting in a gutter where our annex meets the main house. It is a space under the eaves. I’m thinking of just cleaning up their nesting material and stuffing crumpled birdwire into the under-eaves area. Any other suggestions? They did get to build a nest inside the roof last year, but I blocked off their access.

    I thought of making a nest box for them on top of the annex roof, but I don’t know if I want to encourage them to stay.

  2. John Tongue says:

    Hi Trevor,
    If your correspondent has them, I would blame Blackbirds. Here in Tassie, where Blackbirds are plentiful, they regularly flick moss and mud out of our guttering!

  3. Trevor says:

    Thanks for the comments Ken – you are certainly finding your way around my three blogs – I think you’ve visited all of them now.

    The Mynas are fast becoming a major pest species in Australia and I discourage you from encouraging them. Providing a nesting box could work for other species however – birds like some of the parrots.

    Keeping the Mynas out of the roof cavity is a very good idea. Starlings and sparrows in particular love to do this. It can be very hazardous to humans to allow this. They can introduce lice which can eventually find their way to your living area. More seriously, the nests can be a fire hazard. Years ago I removed a sparrow’s nest from the chimney of our slow combustion heater. No wonder it wasn’t drawing properly. The lower half of the nesting material (dry grass) was singed and quite black. I doubt if the birds had to sit on the eggs to hatch them! We must have been close to a chimney fire.

    I’ve used crumbled up birdwire effectively too and this is probably the easiest solution. A more elaborate and costly solution would be to get a builder to make sure there are no gaps big enough for birds to enter. It’s something I need to do with our cabin (a lined shed used as a guest room).

  4. Ken Rolph says:

    “you are certainly finding your way around my three blogs – I think you’ve visited all of them now”
    Do I get a prize?

  5. Trevor says:

    Sorry Ken – no cigar.

    Except – it now gives you free entry into the comments on any post on all of my blogs. You no longer have to wait for the moderation process to kick in.

    Now before you go writing all kinds of upsetting things about me (LOL) I still have the moderator’s right to delete any unsuitable comments. In the 4 years I have been blogging I’ve only needed to do that on 2 or 3 occasions, usually due to the language used. I’ve even allowed comments openly critical of me and my writing skills. You need broad shoulders in a public forum like this.

    On one memorable occasion I did close all further comments because one reader took it upon herself to express her bizarre religious views far removed from the intent of the article.

  6. faye cooper says:

    Can you tell me how to discourage (next year)fairy martens from making nests under my eaves please. I have around 53 completed nests along the western side of my house. I am happy for them to stay this year, they are so cute. I read somewhere that you put mesh on the wall BEFORE THEY START BUILDING THEIR NESTS. Thank you. Faye P.S. Three weeks ago there must have been something getting to the eggs. I found around 12 strewn about the ground (most in halves) Maybe gekkos? I haven;’t seen any for 10 days.

  7. Trevor says:

    Hi there Faye,

    What an extraordinary problem to have! They must really like the protection your house provides for their nests. You didn’t say why you want to discourage them – are they making a terrible mess?

    There are quite a few references in the literature to the belief that to have a nesting swallow on or in your house is to bring gook luck. See:

    In my opinion, it probably brings more luck to the nesting pair than to the human hosts. People who love having the birds in such close contact will inevitably care for the nest and provide security for the nestlings.

    As to how you prevent them nesting there again I’m not sure how you go about that. The pairs nesting there at the moment will return to the same spot next year. They tend to be very faithful to a particular site. Not knowing your particular situation it is hard to say how to go about it. One thought that came to mind would be to drape some shadecloth along that side of the house so they couldn’t fly in and settle. Might look nicer than wire mesh. I still question why you would want to discourage them.

    It is possible geckos are taking the eggs. Another possibility is cuckoos. We have 13 members of the cuckoo family here in Australia – none of them make the famous “cuckoo” call of the European species.

    The cuckoos are parasitic nesters – they lay their eggs in the nests of other species which then go on the raise the young cuckoo. The newly hatched cuckoo will often push the other eggs out of the nest, thus ensuring it gets all the food and attention.

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