What Smells Repel Birds (That They Hate)

There are birds we love to have in our backyards. Hummingbirds delight us with their amazing acrobatics.

Robins, cardinals, and orioles display beautiful feathers. Warblers, thrashers, mourning doves, and mockingbirds entertain us with their songs.

But there are other birds we wish would just go away.

Whether it is a nose-diving grackle or a plenteously pooping pigeon, we would just rather these birds go somewhere else.

One way to get rid of birds is with smells that repel.

This article reveals some specific odor repellents for the most common problem birds, pigeons, starlings, sparrows, and grackles.

We will also list some odor repellents that work for all kinds of birds, explain why some birds are sensitive to odor repellents and why some birds aren’t, and answer some frequently asked questions.

Odors That Get Rid of Pigeons

Pigeons have a strong sense of smell.

Scientists at the world-renowned department of ornithology at Cornell University have confirmed a well-known scientific study that found that homing pigeons find their way home with their sense of smell.

Pigeons remember smells in sequence.

The distinctive smells of their favorite foods—found in garbage cans—help them find their way to their favorite feeding grounds during the day and back home to their roost at night.

Smells that humans find offensive, like garbage, don’t bother pigeons.

But smells that overwhelm the pigeon’s ability to navigate by scent will drive them away.

Pigeons are repelled by common spices, perfumes, cologne, and vinegar. Here’s how to use these common pigeon repellents.

  • Black pepper – Offer pigeons a spicy meal of birdseed and black peppercorns. One bite of peppercorn, and they will not be able to navigate back to your backyard for several hours. Sprinkling ground black pepper in places where pigeons gather also works.
  • Cayenne pepper – Spread ground cayenne pepper, the kind you buy in the spice section at the grocery store, on the ground where pigeons congregate. It will irritate their nostrils, so they fly away.
  • Cinnamon – This is another spice you use in ground form. Sprinkle cinnamon on a pigeon roost or in a pigeon nest and you won’t see them around very long.
  • Citrus oils, such as lemon oil – Most people like the scent of lemon oil, but pigeons can’t stand it. Anything with a lemony scent, including cleaning products, encourages pigeons to fly away.
  • Cumin – Do you have a problem with pigeons trying to get into your garbage cans? Sprinkle some cumin on the lid. You can also sprinkle cumin anywhere pigeons land on your patio or deck.
  • Ghost peppers – Ghost peppers are very effective pigeon repellents, but you don’t want them to repel you, your children, or your pets! Wear gloves when you sprinkle ground ghost pepper on surfaces where pigeons land. Don’t put out ghost pepper flakes where your pets can get them on their paws.
  • Lavender, patchouli, or peppermint oil – Essential oils overwhelm a pigeon’s sense of smell. Using an essential oil diffuser on your deck or patio will keep pigeons away. They cannot remember its smell to come back if they encounter these smells.
  • Onions, garlic, and ornamental alliums – Use these live plants at corners of your backyard to keep pigeons from flying in. You could also put onion or garlic powder anywhere you would use pepper or pungent spices.
  • Perfume and cologne – Spray where you want to keep pigeons away.
  • Vinegar – Set out a bowl of vinegar anywhere you want to keep pigeons away. Don’t spray vinegar on plants. It can dry them out.

Using these home remedies can be a lot of work.

There is a commercial pigeon spray called Ciensta that uses the essential oil of lemon grass.

Like all of the pigeon repellents listed above, Ciensta confuses the sense of smell in pigeons, encouraging them to fly off elsewhere.

It is also anti-microbial, killing bacteria in pigeon poop, and formulated to stick to a variety of different kinds of surfaces.

How to Use Pigeon Repellents

Chances are that you most want to get rid of pigeons where they leave their droppings.

As we will discuss in some more detail in the next section, the odor of pigeon droppings is a signal for pigeons that they are safe.

Other pigeons stayed in the location long enough to do their business.

They may even feel secure enough to use your home to build their nest. Repellents don’t work unless you also scrape pigeon droppings away.

Here is what you need to do over a 21-day period to get rid of pigeons.

Day 1. Scrape the droppings away. Wash the surface with soap and water. Let it dry thoroughly. Then spray Ciensta or other natural pigeon repellents.

Days 2 through 21. Scrape any new droppings away, but do not wash. You want the repellent odor to build up. Spay the surface again with Ciensta or any of the natural pigeon repellents listed above.

Anytime it rains or snows. Let the surface dry, and then spray with repellent. You may need more than 21 days to get rid of pigeons completely in rainy weather.

Odors need to be strong to keep pigeons away. You will need to reapply these pigeon deterrents if they are washed away by rain.

Since pigeons nest and breed all year round, you need to put out these deterrents winter, spring, and summer. and fall.

It’s Equally Important to Get Rid of Smells That Pigeons Like

In addition to droppings, there are certain smells that pigeons find memorable:

  • Anything with a sulfur smell. Pigeons are sensitive to a compound called dimethylsulfide. It’s released by the slime that grows on stagnant water.
  • Anything with a buttery smell, Pigeons need lots of fat in their diets to keep warm (they don’t fly away for the winter) and to fly from place to place. Something like buttered popcorn is a pigeon magnet, an irresistible treat that pigeons mark on a mental flight map, hoping for more.
  • Anything with a terpene smell. These are the odors and aromas of citrus, cannabis, tea, and essential oils. “But aren’t those pigeon repellents?” you might ask. In small amounts, terpenes give pigeons a natural landmark to help them fly across many miles and find their way back to their nests and roosts. In large amounts, they overwhelm the pigeon’s sense of smell. So, be sure to use large amounts!

Odors That Get Rid of Starlings

Using odor repellents to get rid of European starlings is tricky.

These birds are repelled by small amounts of an essential oil called citronella.

It only takes a tiny amount of citronella oil to send starlings on their way. 

Scientists have discovered, however, that if you put out large amounts of citronella, starlings will decide they have reached their destination.

Instead of acting as a repellent, large amounts of citronella oil act as an attractant!

Put tiny amounts of citronella oil here and there on your property to get rid of European starlings.

Don’t put it everywhere. Use it in small amounts along with other ways of

Odors That Get Rid of House Sparrows

In North America, house sparrows are an invasive species.

Escaping from a park in Brooklyn in 1851, an estimated 82 million house sparrows now occupy the backyards and other bird reserves across the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada.

Ornithologists estimate that there are 740 million house sparrows worldwide.

House sparrows are abundant because they are not afraid of people or pets.

They gather in huge family groups, leaving litter and droppings. But they are afraid of house sparrows to which they are not related.

The most effective way to get rid of a nest of house sparrows is to spread pieces from another nest of starlings.

These birds release oils when they preen their feathers. The scent of a strange bird causes panic.

Because hour sparrows are a pest, it is legal to disturb their nests.

The repellents that work on pigeons will also work on house sparrows, although not as well. It is much more effective just to find an old, abandoned nest and place it next to a nest that is in use.

Odors That Get Rid of Grackles

Grackles are attracted to fish smells. All of the repellents that work on pigeons will work on pigeons, too, if the concentration is strong enough.

The easiest way to get rid of grackles is by using lots and lots of Ciensta, and making sure you remove their droppings daily.

Frequently Asked Questions About Using Odors to Get Rid of Birds

Where can I buy commercial bird repellents?

Commercial products for keeping birds away are available online and in home improvement and hardware stores.

What about putting out Bird-B-Gone?

Bird-B-Gone is a commercial bait product that contains 20 percent methyl anthranilate.

This chemical is part of the flavoring of grape Kool-Aid.

It is harmless to humans and non-toxic to birds, but it gives them a pain in the back of their nostrils. (It does not have this effect on humans.)

The effect wears off in a few hours, but birds will avoid the place where they encountered the chemical.

Methyl anthranilate is also found in a competing product, Avex.

If you want to get rid of large numbers of birds with these products, you should put them out over the entire area where you want to get rid of birds for 7 to 10 days.

You can use Bird-B-Gone streamers in your garden to protect fruits and vegetables.

Place the streamers 10 feet apart. Be sure to put them out over the entire length of rows of plants with ripe fruit or berries,

Do bird-repellent gels work by being stinky?

No, bird-repellent gels keep birds from getting a grip that allows them to perch on a windowsill, under the eave of a house, on a fence, or a balcony railing.

Birds quickly sense that they cannot stop, and they fly away.

How do odor repellents compare with other methods for controlling pigeons?

Used as directed, odor repellents such as Cientras are a very effective way to get rid of pigeons.

It isn’t just the repellent chemical that makes the difference.

It is the combination of removing bird droppings with the daily application of repellent products that will make pigeons stay away for good.

Bird spikes, of course, are only effective where you put them out.

Scarecrows and sonic devices are effective for a day or two, but birds eventually realize that they are harmless.

Mountain lion urine repels both birds and rodents, but it is smelly, and it loses its effectiveness after a rain.

Your cat can kill some birds and frighten others.

The two biggest problems with using cats for bird control are:

  1. Cats may also catch and kill desirable birds and
  2. Some birds are smart enough to figure out how to bombard your cat with sticks, rocks, and nuts from above.

Odor repellents should not be the only method you use to keep problem birds in control, but you should use them as part of any bird-control programs.

Will odor repellents keep birds out of gutters?

Gutters conduct water from the roof away from the foundation of your house. Every time it rains, the repellent will be washed away.

But odor repellents may be effective on gutters during your dry season.

Will odor repellents work on the ridgeline of my roof?

The best method for keeping birds off your roof is to lay down strips of bird spikes. Spikes do not harm birds.

They only keep birds from landing on flat surfaces on your roof.

Stainless steel bird spikes will last for 25 years or longer, while plastic spikes may keep birds away for as long as 10 years.

What is the best bird repellent for a balcony?

The best way to protect a balcony is with bird spikes on and underneath railings.

They will keep people from grasping the railings, too but they will also deprive passing birds of a perch.

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