Silent bird-scare tactic

Laser devicemight prove to be effective without bothering livestock or the neighbours.

By Judie Steeves A

quiet, unobtrusive, harmless and environmentally-friendly method of controlling bird pests around orchards, vineyards and berry fields is being tested by Coral Beach Farms of Lake Country, with some success. The Agrilaser Autonomic Program uses a laser beam to deter birds from entering fields and orchards, but Gayle Krahn, horticulture manager at Coral Beach, says she is learning it is necessary to do a bit of tweaking for the best results.

The first year, she says, it worked very well, but there was low bird pressure. The second year, they purchased the two units they’d rented the previous year instead of shipping them back to the Netherlands, and bought three more. There was a lot more bird pressure that second year, particularly from the crows and magpies, which weren’t deterred for more than a short while. “I changed the program, but that needs to be done more often, I think, to confuse them,” Krahn comments. The laser beam is seen as a physical barrier, so birds are frightened off, particularly starlings and sparrows, but the device is ignored by livestock. Configured through remote control and offering a maximum range of 2,000 metres, users can install and control settings from their laptops and are able to define up to 10 different areas in which birds are repelled.

Coral Beach programmed its laser to sweep just above the trees and only operate during specific times of the day. In less than a minute, the laser covered a 135-acre orchard and led to a dramatic shift in the bird population. This year, however, Krahn says she plans to try not only cycling through three different programs of laser beam action during the day, but also to switch every few weeks to an entirely new program. It only takes a half hour or so to program on the laptop once you get used to it, she reports and it can be

22 British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2017

Agrilaser device being tested at Coral Beach Farms in Lake Country.

changed to move fast or slow, in a zigzag pattern or smooth, amongst other options.

Coral Beach Farms owner David Geen says using multiple methods is still felt to be the best option, so he continues to use squawkers and firearms as well—but no propane noise cannons.

Although the laser beam is a deterrent for all birds, he notes that crows and magpies are the smartest and will figure out the pattern of use first, so it needs to be varied to confuse them.

Geen admits it’s not cheap, but is a viable option for operations 30 acres or larger, he figures.

Krahn says they paid around $8,500 U.S. for the devices, as well as the cost of solar panels to operate them without a power hook-up.

They have employed students to conduct monitoring.

During the trial Coral Beach also compared the laser to more conventional bird control methods, such as falconry and noise makers.

"Noise makers are exactly that—they

make noise and as a result bother neighbours and the surrounding community," notes Krahn, adding that birds also tend to get used to the noise and eventually ignore it.

While falconry may work for smaller farmers, the higher number of falconers needed for a larger operation is too costly for most.

With $12,700 in funding from the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program delivered through IAF's Agri-Food Environment Initiative, Coral Beach became the first grower in the province to test the Agrilaser Autonomic Program. That test has been extended another year for more experiments in changing the programs.

"We want to make sure we share a solution that will benefit all tree fruit, grape and berry growers," says Krahn. "I have confidence in the lasers and I think by tweaking the program we can have even greater success."

Recently launched in The Netherlands, the Agrilaser has been successfully used in European orchards.

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