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OverviewThe Prowler Owl is a scaring device that can be used to get rid of a wide variety of birds with its main application being for use as part of a pigeon control system, according to the manufacturer. The principle of using a Prowler Owl in getting rid of pigeons is to use the target species’ instinctive fear of predators and predation to scare the pigeon away from its desired roosting, feeding or breeding areas. The Prowler Owl differs from the conventional static plastic owl due to the fact that it has moving parts that are powered by wind. One of the main problems associated with static plastic owls is that they include no moving parts and therefore the target species will habituate to the product extremely rapidly.
The Prowler Owl is a replica of the Great Horned Owl with life-sized and accurate markings, according to the supplier. The Great Horned Owl is a voracious predator naturally preying on a wide variety of animals and birds including the feral pigeon, starlings and geese. The Great Horned Owl is not a species that is resident in the UK. The Prowler Owl is constructed from a variety of materials including resin for the head and ‘iron hide’ fabric for the body parts. The fabric is supported by woven flexible cables and riveted plastic struts. The wingspan of the Prowler Owl is 1.1 metre (44”) with a head diameter of 18cm (7”) and a body length of 71cm (28”). The Prowler Owl is designed to be used either by suspending the device from a line (the manufacturer recommends fishing line) or by fixing on the top of a 1.27cm (½”) pole.The manufacturer suggests that the Prowler Owl is effective at getting rid of pigeons due to the fact that the product is constantly moving in the wind or breeze courtesy of the airfoil body which acts as a wind sock. The wings of the Prowler Owl hang downward to mimic the hunting posture of a bird of prey and as the device moves in the wind its wings make a rustling noise, offering a further scaring option. The combination of movement, hunting posture and realistic markings all contribute to make the Prowler Owl effective at getting rid of pigeons according to the manufacturer.
Although the Prowler Owl can be suspended by a wire or line it is normally depicted mounted on a 1.27cm (½”) pole and therefore it must be assumed that this is the preferred method of installation. As the Prowler Owl must be moved regularly to ensure that the target species does not habituate to the product, the pole mounting option is clearly the most user-friendly. The limiting factor of this installation option, however, is the maximum height at which the Prowler Owl can be installed when mounted on a pole in strong winds; the longer the pole the greater the chance of the pole breaking. For any predator model to be effective the device must, ideally, be installed above the area in which the target species is causing problems in order that the device will be perceived as being a ‘real’ hunting raptor. In the case of the Prowler Owl the optimum height may not be achievable due to concerns with wind damage.
When mounted on a pole and located on the roof of a building, where the device will be at its most effective, wind resistance will be an ongoing threat to the integrity of the device and there would appear to be a strong chance that a 1.27cm (½”) pole would snap very easily in strong winds. Unless the pole could be strengthened by being attached to a physical feature of the building the Prowler Owl may suffer damage and even total loss in adverse weather conditions. The closer the Prowler Owl is located to the building, however, the less likely that it is that the product will be a threat to problem birds. For any raptor model to be effective it must be perceived as being ‘real’ by the target species and pigeons, like most urban birds, will quickly realise that the model poses no threat (whether it moves or not) if it is located very close to the structure of a building. This is because all raptors have a hunting ‘pattern’ and for the threat to be perceived as real the raptor model must mimic more than just movement.Habituation is a problem with all bird scarers and the Prowler Owl is no different. Although the Prowler Owl has moving parts, they are dependent on wind to function and in summer, when strong winds are at a minimum, pigeons and other birds are at their most active as this period represents the height of the breeding period. Therefore, at the very time when property owners require a powerful deterrent, the probability is that the Prowler Owl will be least effective. The Prowler Owl may offer some value as part of a conventional urban control system based on physical deterrents such as the anti-roosting spike, but as a stand-alone product in urban environments the Prowler Owl is unlikely to be effective. In agricultural applications the Prowler Owl may offer more in the way of protection but only if the device can be installed in such a way that it mimics a real raptor when hunting and this will involve the device being provided at height and over the area to be protected.
The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is the UK’s Government body that oversees the Wildlife and Countryside Act and produces legislation to which the pest control industry must adhere. The following information is taken from a document provided on DEFRA website entitled: ‘Review of international research regarding the effectiveness of auditory bird scaring techniques and potential alternatives’. By J Bishop, H McKay, D Parrott and J Allan.
“The basis for this deterrent is mimicry of real predators and evocation of fear and avoidance in the target species. Most potential prey species react to predator models; the strength of the response, however, varies between species (Conover 1979), and in some cases raptor models can attract rather than repel birds as species like blackbirds and crows often mob owls or owl models (Conover 1983, cited in Harris and Davis 1998).”
“Model raptors fail to incorporate behavioural cues, which may be critical to the induction of fear and avoidance in the target species. Falcons which are “in the mood” to hunt are said to be “sharp set”; such bird are invariably hungry enough to fly at quarry. Although it is difficult for human observers to differentiate between a falcon when it is sharp set and conversely well fed, birds will mob a hawk more frequently when sharp set than when well fed. Thus, model raptors will be inherently less threatening and consequently less effective than live raptors (Inglis 1980).”
“In the USA, museum-mounted models of a sharp-shinned hawk Accipiter striatus and goshawk Accipiter gentilis both reduced the numbers of birds visiting feeding stations. Habituation to the models, however, was relatively quick with birds reentering the feeding area after only 5-8 hours exposure (Conover 1979).”
“For some bird species the avoidance response to large avian predators appears to be, in part, a learned behaviour. Juvenile gray jays Perisoreus canadensis showed little response to a model great horned owl Bubo virginianus, whereas adult jays reacted intensely (Montevecchi & Maccarone 1987). Interestingly, with repeated exposure, juveniles developed a greater fear toward the model whereas adults habituated to the decoy.”
“As for scarecrows, movement can enhance scaring effectiveness. An animated crowkilling owl model was more effective in protecting vegetable plots from crows than an unanimated model (Conover 1985). This model consisted of a plastic owl model with a plastic crow model in its talons that either had wings that moved in the breeze or battery-powered wings that could move in the absence of wind. Both versions of this device reduced crop damage by 81%. The deterrent effect was maximised by combining movement with an implicit risk. No indication is given of how long the deterrent effect lasted.”
“In general, raptor models are inexpensive (£5-£25 for plastic owl models, Network Pest Control Systems Ltd.) and easy to deploy. Their effectiveness is increased if they are animated and if they are moved frequently. However, birds quickly learn that the model poses no threat and rapidly habituate to it.”
The Prowler Owl is available in the UK and one UK supplier of pest control products offers the product for £46.66 + VAT
The following user comments were provided by Jim Lumbers of Lerida Estate, Lake George, New South Wales, Australia:
"In the winery, where Prowler Owl is used to deter swallows, it is sensational."
"They were starting to nest when we first put it up. After that they disappeared completely from inside the building."
"We have watched them zoom in, see the Prowler Owl, do an abrupt U-turn and fly away."
The following user comments were provided by G. Torres, Florida, USA:
“I purchased the Prowler Owl to try and get rid of nesting pigeons on our front building tarp and roof edges. I also purchased a large traffic cone from a fire prevention store across our street here in downtown Ft Lauderdale (I painted the cone black). Lastly I purchased a special non-tangle flag pole from another company in order to “Maguiver” your Prowler Owl to stand on the cone and pole (which turns 360°). As the wind blows through the owl from any direction allowing it not only to flap the wings as it does by design but have all round movement.”
“At first my co-workers started joking saying that the pigeons would just stand on the owl’s head and “dump poop on its head”, the first few week the pigeons got scared but the alpha males would come and defy the owl by standing near it.”
“Since the owl is on a cone I am able to move it every few days to specific areas of the roof (as you advise) little by little the pigeon activity on our roof and especially our tarps has minimised to where there are no droppings on the tarp (although we only have the one Prowler Owl placed on the 4th floor).”
“The South Florida rain this season cleaned the tarp and is still clean thanks to your Prowler Owl.”
The following comments were made by A.P. Robert, Director of Physical Plant, Big Beaver Falls Area School, USA:
“As the Director of Buildings and Grounds, pest control is an ongoing problem, not only inside but outside as well.”
“Our pigeon problem was a constant headache. Trapping was long, tedious and expensive. Shooting or poisoning were prohibited.”
“Results with the prowler owl were immediate, and we no longer have this serious problem. We have purchased two more and they will (protect) our other buildings.”
Comments from the Manufacturer/Distributor:
One Australian supplier of the Prowler Owl offers the following description of the product:
“Owls are one of the most feared predators of other bird species. The Prowler Owl is amongst the latest innovations in bird scaring and is extremely effective.”
“Prowler Owl's flapping wings rise and fall as the head and airfoil body move in the breeze. The life size, the rustling noise of the wings in the breeze and the perpetually moving, hunting posture make Prowler Owl the most realistic predator look-alike on the market.”
“The superbly detailed Prowler Owl has a wingspan of 1.1 metres and is 71cm from head to tail with a head diameter of 18cm. Its head is made from hard resin and the body and wings are made from extremely tough woven fabric (strong-weave iron hide) which is supported by flexible cables and rivetted struts.”
“Prowler Owl is extremely portable, mounting on a 1.5cm diameter pole that slides into a hole beneath the head. The only limit on height is the length of the pole used to mount it, but the higher it can be positioned, the better.”
The Prowler Owl is a variation on the plastic owl theme with one major difference – it has moving parts. Static plastic owls are not considered to be effective at getting rid of pigeons in the main due to the lack of moving parts and habituation on the part of the target species. Although the Prowler Owl does have moving parts, the device is totally dependent on wind power which is not always available, particularly at certain times of year.
The Prowler Owl is designed to be installed on top of a pole or hung from a line of some description and yet these installation options may not lend themselves to installation at height, particularly on a building. Because the Prowler Owl needs to be installed above the roosting or perching area of the target species in order to be effective, another problem inherent with this product is identifying a suitable site, at height, where strong winds will not damage the device or the pole upon which it is placed. All wind-blown scarers, including predator balloons and kites, are vulnerable in strong winds and ineffective when there is no wind. One user mounted the Predator Owl on top of a traffic cone and painted the cone black in an effort to make the owl less vulnerable to wind damage and easier to move as and when required. Although this may resolve many issues associated with wind damage and ease of movement, it is almost certain that the Prowler Owl would not be located high enough above the ground to be perceived as a threat by problem birds.
DEFRA’s research clearly suggests that in some cases raptor models can actually attract pest species of birds rather than deter them. DEFRA also confirms that scarers are species-specific and will only have limited success with some, rather than all species of bird. Where live raptors are flown to deter certain pest species of bird such as gulls and members of the corvid family (crows, rooks etc), they are regularly mobbed and attacked resulting in the raptor becoming the prey rather than being the predator. This fact alone suggests that static raptor models will have little success in their own right. It is also the case that the owl is a very efficient predator, but it is not the natural predator of the gull nor the pigeon. Neither is the Great Horned Owl resident in the UK. In a vast majority of cases raptor models will be sold to those experiencing problems with pigeons and gulls and as a result the product is likely to be ineffective unless provided as part of a comprehensive control system. Even then, there is doubt as to whether a raptor model can or will play any useful part.
Habituation to scaring products is a rapid process in a majority of birds and never more so than in the case of the feral pigeon, one of the most intelligent and widely controlled birds on the planet. Although the manufacturer suggests that habituation can be reduced by regularly moving the Prowler Owl it is unlikely that the relocation will render the product more effective for use with the control of pigeons or gulls, particularly if the device is simply being moved from one part of a building to another. The other problem associated with having to regularly re-site the device is the need for human interaction. If the Prowler Owl is installed in a hard to reach area, on the roof of a building for example, the amount of time spent moving the device will be considerable, particularly if the device requires complex fixings.
User comments about the Prowler Owl are positive, although these comments were taken from supplier websites, therefore the device cannot be discounted as a scaring product but as a stand-alone deterrent it is unlikely to be completely effective. The general view from within the pest control industry is that any type of static scaring device, such as a raptor model, is largely ineffective other than as a part of an existing anti-perching system. If the most appropriate anti-perching products are chosen, however and if they are installed according to manufacturer’s instructions, there should be no need for any additional scaring devices, thereby rendering scaring products such as the Prowler Owl unnecessary and potentially redundant.
PDF on DEFRA website entitled: ‘Review of international research regarding the effectiveness of auditory bird scaring techniques and potential alternatives’ By J Bishop, H McKay, D Parrott and J Allan.
Also commonly known as:
Plastic hawks, plastic raptors, owl decoy, plastic owl decoy, decoy birds of prey, hawk decoy, plastic predator, fake owls, fake hawks, robot owls, robotic owls, robotic hawks, fake predator
Relevance to pigeon control:
Prowler Owl is a pigeon-specific scaring product