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Bird/Rodent/Nest Mites

- Mites that sometimes invade homes and bite people -

Summary: There are a number of small mites that normally feed on the blood of animals such as birds and rodents but can bite people as well. These mites do not infest homes over the long-term but may enter rooms from a nearby abandoned animal nest. Bites are irritating and itchy but not otherwise dangerous.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Bird/rodent/nest mite identification

These mites belong to a group of mites that parasitize birds (including poultry) and rodents. They live in the animal's nest and feed on its blood. They normally do not leave the host's nest but may do so if the nest is abandoned for some reason, or the host animal dies.

When mites leave the host animal's nest they can enter homes, sometimes in large numbers. They will bite people but cannot survive and reproduce on our blood alone. The bite is irritating and itchy but not otherwise dangerous. Mites can survive for weeks or even months without feeding.

Bites can also occur when people handle birds, poultry, or rodents. For example people who raise poultry and pet store workers frequently report bird mite bites. Adult mites are about 1/32" and often dark in color because of the presence of blood inside the mite (see photo).

bird mite and human hair

Hummingbird mite (~1/32") (probably Pellonyssus gorgasi) and a human hair. Dark coloration inside mite is blood on which the mite had fed; some use the term "black pepper mite" referring to this coloration. This photo was taken with a inexpensive digital camera, and digitally enlarged. Photo by Elizabeth DeAngelis.


Bird mite bites look like mosquito bites

The reaction to a bite varies from person to person and even depends on which species of mite caused the bite. In general, however, the bite site will be bright red in color, sometimes surrounded by a rash. The bites often itch and treatment is generally by OTC anti-itch lotions. Obviously you should seek medical attention if the bite becomes infected.

Myths and misinformation

There is considerable misinformation about bird mites, much of it propagated by websites promoting remedies to imagined whole-house infestations. There is no evidence whatsoever that any of the bird/rodent/nest mites infest homes. Rather they enter houses when their natural animal hosts abandon the nest or die. They don't establish a permanent infestation because we are not a suitable substitute host.

Bird mites do not jump, hop or fly and in fact can't move very far from their source (notice the short legs in the photo above). So where you find them the original source nest is probably nearby. They don't burrow into skin and are easy to wash off with soap and water. The mites are small but not impossible to see, even without magnification (see photo above). They DO NOT multiply in homes and are not difficult to eliminate once the original animal nest is removed.


How to eliminate bird mites

The first and most important step is to locate and remove the infested bird or rodent nest. In the case of song birds remember that you should not disturb the occupied nests of most birds in the US because they are protected by endangered species laws.

Second, carefully clean the room where mites are found. Vacuum rugs, drapes, furniture and so forth, and dispose of the dust bag outside because mites can escape from the bag. Next, wash hard surfaces with a suitable, mild detergent. Insecticides are generally not needed but if you decide to treat use one of the new botanical, plant-based insecticides (see Using Botanical Pesticides) as a safer alternative to conventional insecticides.


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Jack DeAngelis, PhD,  , email:  [email protected]

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