Bird Condos: Don't Let Your Aircraft Become Their Nesting Ground

It's spring, when birds' brains turn to thoughts of love.

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Mark Phelps

It's a part of the airport experience. When spring starts to thaw the air and buds begin to sprout on the trees and flowers, the birds begin their annual mating ritual. You can see them flitting around the hangars and pairing off. Of course, for aircraft owners — especially those of us who moor to outdoor tiedowns — this is a time of extra vigilance. We take extra care to barricade all access points to our engine compartments, wheel wells, tailcones and anywhere else that might tempt a feathered friend in search of prime nesting real estate. Inside hangars, the birds still seek out what they see as well protected shelter, so you also have to be alert during the spring season.

For many years, I escaped all interest from the birds, but for the last five springs or so, my swallow-tail Bonanza seems to have become particularly attractive as a bird-condo. Last year, after cleaning out a substantial nest from my engine one afternoon (I swear it wasn't there that morning — they work fast), I resorted to an emergency procedure. The local dollar store had a pair of Betty Boop throw pillows that I wrapped in thick plastic for marginal waterproofing and stuffed into the engine inlets. I attached ribbons to the corners to catch my eye should I start the engine with the ersatz plugs still in place. Tacky, but effective. I keep meaning to order legitimate engine plugs, but …

So far, the grackles haven't shown any interest in my wheel wells, tailcone or any other points of entry. And my pitot tube is protected from mud daubers by a cover — a real one. At this year's annual, my Bonanza-owning technician Don Krog added a new accessory. He created a plug for the fuel vent that emerges from the front of the lower cowling — a piece of plastic tube that slips over the vent tube, and includes a four-inch length of thick cord that both plugs the open end of the tube and serves as a high-profile reminder to remove the plug during preflight. Thanks, Don.

One last little thing: I learned from experience that white bird droppings on the backside of my propeller can be distracting in flight. The white "circle" they make in the prop arc is annoying to the eye and risks compromising my visual scan — not only for traffic outside but also my instrument scan inside the cockpit during IMC. So I keep an old rag and a supply of 'propwash' (plain water) to clean up the blades during preflight.