From high atop the WasteExpo exhibit hall last month, a shrill, avian cry rang out. Attendees looked around, a bit bewildered. Had a bird of prey somehow strayed into the Dallas Convention Center?
Not quite. The sound emanated from a speaker in the bottom of a robotic peregrine falcon named Robop. The bionic bird, perched atop a 20-foot pneumatic pole, would, at intervals, flap its wings, cock its head, shift on its legs and issue that piercing call. Its steely (okay, plastic) eyes seemed designed to strike fear into gulls and other undesirables who dared cross its path.
The device, designed and manufactured by Robop Ltd. of Tranent, Scotland, is currently sold in 14 countries. Though it’s been on the market for a decade, Robop has only recently begun to be deployed as a deterrent at waste sites, says Keith Everett, president of Predatech, a Carlisle, Ontario-based bird control consultancy that employs and distributes the robot in Canada. Everett, who employs a range of bird deterrents, including live birds of prey, propane cannons, pyrotechnics and distress call systems, was at WasteExpo to demonstrate Robop’s potential in waste site applications. He says that he’s been using it at landfills for about six months and that, as far as he knows, he is the first to use it in that application.
“The environmental conditions on a landfill site can be extremely dusty,” says Everett, detailing a situation in which Robop might actually be preferable to a live hawk or falcon. “It can get extremely hot. There could be a lot of different types of operations going on where you can’t fly the live predator close to the target area where the gulls are having success.” (It is gulls of various species that Everett says he confronts most often.)
“They’ll treat it like all of a sudden there’s an actual predator,” he says. “The seagulls will get up. They’ll come over. They’ll scream over its head. They’ll dive bomb it and try to drive it from the area. Of course, it doesn’t leave. But then it starts moving. The wings start flapping, the whole body starts moving and the falcon distress call comes in and heightens the effect. The gulls get more excited. Some of them will leave the site.”
At that point Everett says he follows up with a range of other techniques over an extended period to retrain the gulls. “In the initial stages of a program, they’ll start to come back. You have to break the behavior. You have to condition them that that’s a bad area now. If there’s a constant threat of a predator and they’re not having any success, it’s instinctive for them to move on.”
Everett emphasizes that Robop, or any singular deterrent for that matter, will fail if not implemented as part of a properly researched, comprehensive bird control strategy that takes into account the species of birds, weather, the attributes of the site and other factors.