Using a combination of techniques and timing are keys to successful bird management in and around food facilities.
Editor’s note: Two summers ago, Lynn Braband, senior extension associate with the New York State IPM Program of Cornell University, had an opportunity to interact on-site with facility managers regarding an ongoing bird management program at a very large cereal production facility in the eastern United States. The challenging situation they face on a daily basis is biologically, structurally and socially complex. But bird control is a top priority. If a health inspector finds birds, bird droppings or feathers in the wrong place, the plant could be shut down immediately. Braband recalled his experiences at this account during an educational session at NPMA PestWorld 2013.
In evaluating a bird-prone cereal production facility he has been visiting, Lynn Braband noted it is surrounded on three sides by water, is on a major pathway for migratory and wintering water birds, and sits adjacent to various abandoned buildings and silos that the company has no control over. Structurally, the facility itself poses challenges due to its sheer size and a person’s ability to reach areas where birds are roosting. Additionally, it is in an urban area across from a public marina.
The bird management program had been handled largely in-house to date, and the staff had been successful controlling smaller birds, such as starlings and sparrows, by reducing vegetation and using exclusion and auditory techniques at strategic locations.
“One corner of the property is located under a large interstate overpass, and several hundred starlings had nested under the bridge,” he says. “One manager went onto the roof at the highest point of the building, which was still several hundred feet below the overpass, and tried one of the recorded audio harassment machines that uses distress calls, and it worked. The birds left and haven’t been back. In addition, within the last year, they are using OvoControl and have seen a large reduction in pigeons from dealing with hundreds to just a dozen or so.”
Biology, Behavior Provide Clues.
The company’s current challenges are Canada geese and ring-billed gulls at two locations: (1) a peninsula where geese are feeding on grain spilled from railroad cars; and (2) a lower roof upon which grain residue lands. Braband says geese prefer to walk from the water onto the land, and there were two locations on the peninsula where they could easily do so.
“Most of the geographical point is pretty steep, so we looked at the two most vulnerable locations. I suggested cabling or fencing this spring to limit access at those two sites,” Braband says. “I suggested a triage approach — do what’s most likely to work first. Rather than exclusion on the whole facility, address the key points first and then evaluate the results.”
Then the group went to the upper roof to look at the lower roof where the grain residue was being deposited. “From the upper roof, the geese, gulls and mallards on the lower roof below looked like hummingbirds — that’s how big this facility was,” Braband says.
A Man-made Obstacle.
Unfortunately at this time, the managers were not able to obtain permission from upper management to do longer-term solutions including structural modifications on the roof that would eliminate the grain residue and/or install a grid line or parallel line system. A fairly constant wind limited their possibilities as well.
“We discussed shorter-term management control consisting of continued experimentation with harassment methods. Given their urban setting, these methods may be largely visual rather than audio such as loud explosive devices,” Braband said. “In the past, they had tried to use a remote-controlled car, but the roof was so large it put the car out of range. I suggested they give that another try with a system that has more range. Motion-activated laser devices may also be of some utility.”
Recent Cornell University research investigating the prevention of bird damage in small fruit such as berries showed success using “air dancers” often used to promote car sales or tax services. However, the often windy conditions on the roof at this particular site would greatly limit their use, according to Braband.
“They wanted to know if using strobe lights might be a possibility, but Cornell research shows using them to repel geese was not very promising,” says Braband. “A device that combines strobes and noise, may have more success.”
Staying a Step Ahead.
Another issue to consider when using fear-producing stimuli is habituation. Birds and other vertebrates learn and will adapt or ‘get used to’ various methods to scare them off.
“We can’t prevent it permanently but we can certainly delay habituation. The more the device moves, the better. And the more you move the device itself, the better,” Braband says. “Do not constantly leave a device up. If you put it up and you get the results you want, take it down. If you leave it up, the more quickly habituation will occur.”
Another key to delaying habituation is incorporating reinforcement. “A great example of this for me is from an international IPM meeting where a researcher from Israel talked about grain farmers having problems with cranes in their fields. They put yellow rain slickers on the scarecrows, and as long as the farmer would periodically follow up by wearing a yellow rain slicker and shooting in the direction of the cranes, it would scare them off,” Braband says. “The key to success is the farmer. As long as the farmer would do the reinforcement, it was a very effective tool.”
The Bottom Line.
The bottom line on bird management is a combination of approaches is better than a single approach.
“You have to be flexible, innovative and ongoing — mixing it up in terms of a combination of techniques and timing is usually important. What works well at one site may not work at another,” Braband says. “Effective bird management involves a lot of problem solving, there’s no one size fits all approach.”
The author is a PCT contributing writer who can be contacted at email@example.com.