For the Birds Radio Program: Homeowner's Insurance

Original Air Date: Sept. 7, 1990

This is the original program Laura did after she learned that homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover wildlife damage and wrote to Dave Barry to investigate. (4:05) Date verified.

Audio missing


Owls don’t drop down chimneys every day, but when they do, look out. Last winter some friends of mine had a close encounter of the weird kind with a Barred Owl. He fell down their chimney into a section of the house which they usually keep closed to conserve heat. Although their dogs suspiciously sniffed at the door, the humans ignored them for days as the owl digested his most recent meals. When they finally opened the door, enormous streaks of whitewash covered their walls and furniture, the owl’s talons had sliced up their sofa, and overall—well, you get the picture.

My friends had their sofa repaired and hired professionals to clean up the mess. Then they approached their insurance company with the bills. That’s when they got their second big surprise. It turns out that most standard homeowner’s policies don’t cover wildlife damage. To check out this surprising news, I talked to several Duluth insurance salesmen. Sure enough, most of the damage that wild birds do isn’t covered, such as woodpecker damage to siding. How about if a woodpecker knocks a tree down onto the roof? The salesmen weren’t sure about that one.

Then a mentioned a true case from 1987. A Bald Eagle carrying a fish in its talons suddenly came upon Alaska Airlines Flight 61 from Juneau to Yukatat. The startled eagle dropped the fish, which slammed into the plane, denting the fuselage. Now if a Bald Eagle flying at 10,000 feet dropped a 4-pound fish onto the roof of a house, that could cause a considerable amount of damage, too, but the salesmen weren’t sure whether insurance would cover it. One did offer the comforting information that damage to homes from items dropped from airplanes is covered.

There are plenty of cases on record of House Sparrows picking up lighted cigarette butts from sidewalks and incorporating them into their nests, which sets buildings on fire. In this case, the damage would be covered.

Without exception, the salesmen were friendly and polite, but they all agreed that if an owl, or any other bird, falls down a chimney, the homeowner is stuck for the damages.

“How about if a Ruffed Grouse crashes through a picture window?” I asked. “That’s not covered either, they said. Now if a kid throws a rock through a window, that is covered, so I asked, “What if a kid throws a Ruffed Grouse through a window?” None of the salesmen were sure, so they referred me to an insurance adjustor.

It was at this point that I made a major discovery. When people apply for work in the insurance industry, they are apparently given a humor test. Maybe the employers flash a bunch of Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes cartoons on the wall, and then read a bunch of Dave Barry columns to them, and whoever cracks up at least once is sent on to sales, and whoever sits gravely through it all is transferred to adjustments. The adjustors I talked to were suspicious and humorless, and none would even speculate about damage coverage from a kid throwing a Ruffed Grouse through a window.

I complained about it to Dave Barry, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, who often writes about exploding cows, whales, and other animals. He wrote back to ask another question, “Is it covered if you shoot an insurance adjustor and he bleeds on your furniture?”

Hmmmm… Anyway, next time you see a grouse headed for your window, or hear a woodpecker tapping on your wood siding, or get your wedding clothes spattered by one of Dave Barry’s exploding sparrows, you might consider asking the bird to go play with matches instead.