With birds migrating back north after avoiding the harsh winter climate, peak bird watching season is on the horizon. But before you grab your binoculars and seek out a Baltimore oriole or a diligent woodpecker pecking away at a tree, make sure you cover all the bases to ensure you are protected from ticks.
Unfortunately, with incidences of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses increasing, the fear of contracting a tick-borne disease goes hand in hand with enjoying the outdoors. Forests, highly wooded areas and properties with long, dense grass are ideal locations for ticks to multiply – areas birds and bird watchers alike are likely to frequent. With that said, here are several ways to combat ticks while getting your avian fix:
Cover up: For ticks, the end game is to latch onto your skin, so being fully protected by clothing minimizes the chances of being bitten. Closed footwear, long pants and sleeves are a must. The pants should be tucked into your socks or alternatively commercially manufactured tick gaiters can be worn. Light coloured clothing is preferred to make any hitchhiking ticks easier to spot.
Applying bug spray: Sprays containing DEET or Picaridin (Icaridin)) are the most effective against ticks – botanicals like citronella and soybean oil can be used but are not as effective.
Bring a tick reference guide: Ticks are small and difficult to identify, and there are many different species which carry different diseases. As a result, bringing a reference guide to help you identify what may have bitten you can be invaluable. Tick Encounter from the University of Rhode Island is one useful source, and there are also several apps available to help you identify ticks.
Stay on course: The ideal environment for a tick is knee height grass or leaf litter. This is because ticks use a process called ‘questing’, where they extend their legs and wait for a potential host to pass by. They do not hang from branches or jump, but rather patiently wait for someone to brush by them. By sticking to a trail, you are putting yourself at significantly less risk.
Check your clothes: Birders that have traveled through grassy or wooded areas should consider putting their clothes in the dryer at high heat for 10- 15 several minutes. This will kill any ticks lingering on the clothes.
Check your equipment- Remember to check back packs, camera and binocular cases for hitching ticks. Spraying this equipment with a tick repellent should be done prior to your birding adventure.
With these tips in mind, you should be ready to begin your scenic, idyllic bird-watching quest. Good luck and have fun. Just remember to not get complacent – it is possible for anyone to contract Lyme disease, especially if proper precautions aren’t taken.