Got a green dilemma? Ask me! I'll be answering a new question each week.
I just found out I have bird mites in my house. Do you know of an eco-friendly way to get rid of them? —Beccie McDonell
Yikes, poor you! I have childhood memories of red, excruciatingly itchy bird mite bites. These arthropods, less than a millimeter long, are barely visible white specks until they turn red with the blood they’ve consumed. They don't feed on human blood, but they still bite us, and their saliva causes skin irritation. Bird mites cannot survive for longer than three weeks without bird contact.
The eco-friendliest way to get rid of bird mites, or any pest, is to employ Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is basically a fancy way of saying you should try everything else before insecticides. First, vacuum (and discard the bag or empty the canister promptly) or wipe up mites with a damp cloth. Wash clothes, drapery, and bedding in hot water, seal them in plastic bags, or freeze them—all of which kill bird mites.
The problem won’t be entirely solved, however, until you remove unoccupied bird nests from around your house (eaves, porches, chimneys, window wells and ledges) and inside the attic. Be sure to wear a mask, gloves, and long-sleeved, tightly woven clothing to keep mites off. Discourage future nest-building by covering and sealing gaps, and close windows.
Federal law forbids removal of active (occupied by birds and/or eggs) migratory bird nests, including those of starlings, which are frequently drawn to houses. Many state laws protect other species, such as robins, as well. If there are active nests attached to your house, contact your nearest USDA cooperative extension office.
For more information, see Penn State University's bird mite fact sheet.
Mindy Pennybacker regularly answers readers' green-living questions. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.