Bird Mites or Clover Mites or Something Else?

By Chris Williams on June 25, 2015.
House Sparrow

We often get frantic calls about lots of tiny mites crawling over surfaces. Sometimes the caller complains of bites from these little mites as well. It takes a thorough inspection to determine whether these are indeed mites, and then whether they are bird mites, or clover mites, or rodent mites, or in rare cases, newly hatched brown dog ticks. The tiny moving specks can even be plant pests from potted houseplants.


Nearby Birds’ Nests Can Mean Migrating Bird Mites

At this time of year, our first assumption is that we are dealing with bird mites. Bird mites are parasites that live in the nests of various birds ranging from chickens to sparrows to starlings. The mites suck blood from both adult and baby birds. The mites usually remain on the birds but can be found in the nest as well. When the mite population gets too large or when the birds leave the nest, mites will abandon the nest and migrate, looking for new hosts to feed on.

In homes and other buildings, bird mites can usually be tracked back to a bird’s nest in the attic, or in eaves, on a window A/C unit or on window ledges, or in vents, in chimneys, and similar sites. When the nest is on the outside of the building, the mites will move down the outside wall and enter through windows (screens won’t stop them) or any other tiny opening that they can find. If the bird’s nest is inside the structure, mites usually move from the attic down into living spaces through light fixtures or other openings in the ceiling. If we’re not able to find evidence of nesting birds, we ask whether the home has a pet gerbil or pet birds because bird mites have been found infesting these animals as well.

Although it is extremely difficult to identify different mites, even with a microscope, differences in the mites’ coloration and habits can help with identification. Bird mites are barely visible and usually pale in color. However, bird mites that have just feed on blood will have a more reddish color. The look-alike clover mites are bright red in color even though they do not bite people or feed on blood. Clover mites are outdoor plant pests that occasionally find their way indoors (see Keeping Clover Mites Outside).

Do Bird Mites Bite People?

Bird mites don’t go looking for people to bite when away from the nest. They will bite people out of desperation, but they can’t survive on people and they don’t actually infest people. The bites are more like exploratory bites, but they can still inject saliva which can result in an itching reaction. Bird mites don’t live long once they are off of their bird hosts and out of the nest. In a home, bird mites will die in 3 weeks or less without a blood meal.

If you see tiny mites in your home, give Colonial Pest a call. If our inspection finds evidence of nesting birds we will remove the nest debris and treat that area. We will also treat cracks and crevices in areas where the mites have been seen or where they are entering your home. Finally, we can bird-proof your home by closing off and sealing up sites where birds are building nests.
Photo credit: Nottsexminer / Foter / CC BY-SA



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