Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Bird mites are not a minor matter

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Birds in the backyard Updated: August 28, 2012 - 11:37 PM

This is a story about creepy crawly bird mites. You’ve probably never had to give thought to these members of the arthropod family. Lucky you.

First, you’re unlikely to ever encounter these exquisitely tiny semi-transparent spider-related creatures. Bird mites should in no way affect your interest in or affection for birds.

With that out of the way, here are two mite stories.

I once lived in an apartment with its own entrance. Above that door, on the outside of the building, was a porch light. A pair of Barn Swallows built a nest there.

One evening, dressed for a date, I noticed the now-empty nest. I poked at it with my hand to bring it down. I watched, mesmerized, as a thick cloud of mites floated to me. I was so taken with this unexpected exodus that I stood there until covered with almost invisible bugs.

I showered directly and thoroughly. I put the clothes in was wearing in a plastic bag for later attention. I used a hose to clean the light, the door, the stoop – everything.

Barb, a reader of these pages, wrote recently to ask where she might locate a bird-nesting platform so it would not allow entry to her home by mites. There is only one reason to ask that question.

The mites on her deck, in her kitchen, and on her and her husband came, she believes, from the nest of a phoebe. The bird was using a nesting platform attached to the understructure of their deck.

Phoebes like nooks and crannies in human structures, including the space above light fixtures or alarm boxes. House Sparrows favor cavity-like accommodations.

My suggestion was to not attach any nesting aide to the house. Remove nests attached to the building.

Googling “bird mites” produces horror stories. One of them frequently used the word “psychiatrist.” The most useful information came from a Web site in Australia. Bird mites are not a local phenomenon.

We’re dealing with eggs, larvae, and eight-legged creatures that are extremely mobile. They live on blood, but not yours. The mites learn the hard way that you are an inappropriate host. They bite. They die.

You itch and develop a rash.

The Aussie Web page contained this understatement, “The sensation of crawling mites on the skin will irritate some people.” 

Best thing to do is get rid of the source. Insecticide spray will work on invaded surfaces, I understand, but is worth nothing if source material remains 

If you clean bird houses in the fall to remove used nesting material, as should be done, avoid the inevitable possibly mite-laden dust. Wetting the nest and box interior first is worthwhile.

Those House Finches with the cute babies that nest in the hanging flower baskets on your porch? You might think twice about them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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