By Marcia Anderson
Last week I received a call from Mike who lives with his 80+ year old mom in a high rise building in lower Manhattan. She had bite marks on her legs and chest and his first thought was of bed bugs, but finding no evidence or actual bed bugs, he called for advice on what else could be biting them.
They live on the 30th floor of the building and have pigeons roosting on their terrace. Some nights have been unusually warm this spring, so they tend to leave their windows open for a cool breeze. As pigeon fledglings leave their nest each spring, the starving mites find their way into buildings and attack the first warm-blooded host they find.
If you have pigeons nesting on your building or home beware, for as night falls pigeon mites may temporarily leave their nest, enter your bedroom and gorge themselves on your blood.
The female pigeon mite lays small batches of eggs in the fibers of a pigeon’s nest. The eggs will hatch within one or two days and then the first nymphal stage (with eight legs) goes in search of its first blood meal. Pigeon mites are very small (about 1/32” long), and can be seen with the naked eye.
Pigeon mites are quiescent during the day and emerge to feed at night. The first-stage nymph usually only feeds once before moulting, but the second-stage nymph may well feed several times before its next moult. There are usually only two nymphal stages before the adult and the entire life cycle may be completed within a week with reasonably high temperatures such as what we have had this spring. The adult pigeon mites may live up to a year and may survive for several months without a blood meal.
The incidence of these pigeon mites in domestic premises as a result of their migration from pigeon nests, is quite common. This problem is even more common in urban areas and this is usually due to the occurrence of pigeons nesting outside on window ledges and terraces.
When their normal host is not present they may also bite humans, causing discomfort and skin irritations. Fortunately, they do not reproduce on human blood, rarely transmit diseases or otherwise cause a health hazard to people. Bird mites found in homes can be difficult to distinguish, but their control often requires that they are identified correctly. The bird mites we encounter in New York City are most often northern fowl mites, Ornithonyssus sylviarum,
To reduce bird mites that may migrate indoors, treat outside around windows, doors and other possible points of entry with an EPA registered miticide. Follow directions and all precautions on the label. Do not use poison on pigeons, as it can harm other animals in the vicinity as well. Cats and dogs can be poisoned by feeding on the dead pigeons.
About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.