Helikite Predator Balloon
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OverviewThe ‘Helikite’ is a combination of a helium balloon and a kite with two models recommended for the purpose of bird control. The two versions of the Helikite offered for bird control are the ‘Vigilante’ Helikite and the ‘Lightweight’ Helikite. The essential difference between the two products is that the ‘Vigilante’ Helikite has a tough mylar protective cover that will prevent the balloon from becoming damaged if it falls to the ground in strong winds or in rain. The Lightweight Helikite is designed to be used in conjunction with lightweight collapsible aluminium Helikite Poles for use on buildings, landfill sites and for the protection of high-value crops that have good crop cover. The Lightweight Helikite cannot be used on winter crops, overnight or anywhere where the balloon may come down on bare ground when wet. The Lightweight Helikite is ideal for use in hot climates due to the lighter construction. The Vigilante Helikite is a more versatile balloon due to its protective heavy-duty mylar cover and therefore can be used for all agricultural applications irrespective of crop-type and for most other bird-scaring applications. The Helikite, unlike conventional kites, will fly when there is no wind at all due to the helium gas used to inflate the balloon. Unlike most balloons that are shaped like kites, the Helikite is fat and rounded which is essential to provide good helium lift. A conventional kite-shaped balloon will collapse when it hits cold air due to shrinkage of the gas inside the balloon and subsequent loss of pressure required to retain shape. This is not a problem for the Helikite due to its unique shape. The Helikite will also fly in winds of up to 25 mph unlike a conventional balloon, with the wind actually generating uplift rather than bringing the kite down. In winds of above 25 mph the drag caused by the Helikite will bring the balloon down. Although the Vigilante Helikite will come down in rain, the protective mylar cover supplied with the product will ensure that the balloon is not damaged. Once the rain abates and the Vigilante Helikite dries out the balloon will re-launch itself. The Lightweight Helikite is more vulnerable and may become damaged when falling to the ground. As previously mentioned, the Lightweight Helikite is designed for use with the Kite Pole, a 13 metre, lightweight collapsible aluminium pole with just over 12 metres of line extending from the top of the pole to which the Helikite is attached. Each section of the Kite Pole has a ring attached to the side of it through which the Helikite flying line runs. The benefit of the Kite Pole is that in the event of strong wind or rain, the Lightweight Helikite will remain tethered to it rather than plunging to the ground and becoming damaged. The Kite Pole will collapse down to 130cm x 4cm x 8cm allowing it to be transported easily. The pole can be tethered to a fence post or a similar vertical object or it can be held in place with guy ropes.
The Helikite is really just a variation on the predator balloon theme with the product being marketed as a device that mimics the flight of a bird of prey as it hunts. The Helikite would normally be used for agricultural applications with one of the main benefits of the product being that it will climb to a very considerable height and, as a result, is visible over a large area. The Vigilante Helikite will cover and protect an area of up to 8 hectares (20 acres) and will ascend to 60 metres (200 feet) in ideal conditions. The Lightweight Helikite will achieve a height of up to 300 metres (1000 feet) in ideal conditions. Although the Helikite is not shaped or coloured to resemble a bird of prey, the manufacturer suggests that due to the erratic flight pattern of the balloon it will be perceived as a danger by most species of birds. Although most birds rapidly habituate to conventional predator balloons, the manufacturer of the Helikite suggests that there is considerably less chance of habituation with this product.According to the manufacturer the Helikite has many applications for use as a bird scarer including agricultural sites such as arable farms, livestock farms, fish farms and fruit farms as well as numerous urban applications including sports centres, office blocks and hotels. Broadly speaking the manufacturer recommends Helikite for virtually every bird control application, rural or urban. The manufacturer also suggests that the product can be used for the control of a wide variety of bird species including widely controlled urban/rural species such as the pigeon and the gull.
The main advantages of the Helikite is that it is silent, unlike many conventional scarers, requires little or no maintenance other than topping up helium gas and it is easy to move, a strong requirement for bird scarers. Although the Helikite looks quite fragile it is in fact quite rugged with the mylar cover on the Vigilante model protecting the balloon when it falls to the ground. The Helikite balloons are also easy to transport with the Vigilante fitting into the boot of a standard saloon car with ease. Running costs for the Helikite are relatively low with the manufacturer suggesting that the Vigilante will only use “...a few pence worth of gas a day.” This combined with the relatively low purchase price of both the Lightweight and Vigilante Helikites make the product a cost-effective option when considering bird scaring products. The disadvantages of the Helikite is that it cannot be flown in the rain and the device will require human interaction if it is to be moved regularly to reduce habituation. The Helikite cannot be flown in strong winds either and therefore, if sited in a rural location and some distance away from human habitation, the user will need to be in the position to be instantly responsive in the event of gales or high winds to prevent potential damage to the balloon.
DEFRA’s view: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. We have included the relevant sections on both balloons and kites as the Helikite range is part kite, part balloon.
“Balloons tethered in a crop are an inexpensive method of bird deterrence, but studies show that they are not very effective and birds quickly habituate to them. Blue balloons were used in an attempt to deter oystercatchers from a Naval airfield. The birds attacked the balloons and burst them (Wright 1969).”
“Toy balloons were also used to reduce damage to cherries and blueberries (Pearson 1958). Tied to branches of the trees, the balloons deterred starlings, but robins and Baltimore orioles were seen to continue feeding only a few feet away. Balloons were also found to be ineffective in deterring waterfowl from the sites of oil spills (Greer and O’Connor 1994, cited in Reilly 1995).”
“To increase the effectiveness of balloons, eyespots, consisting of a circular pattern that resembles the general appearance of vertebrate eyes, can be printed on the side. These eyes mimic the eyes of large raptors, but may also mimic the eyes of conspecifics, which is alarming as many avian species have frontal threat displays in which the eyes are prominent (Inglis 1980). Two circular eyespots arranged horizontally, each containing concentric rings of bright colour appear to be the most alarming. Those that have a three-dimensional appearance may enhance the effect, and large eyespots are better than small ones (Inglis 1980).”
“At present there are a number of different designs commercially available and may either bear a single pair of eyes on one side or multiple eyespots encircling the entire balloon. Studies indicate that the deterrent effect of eyespot balloons varies between bird species, the eyespot design and with the mode of presentation. In New Zealand, numbers of house sparrows Passer domesticus visiting a bird-feeding table were significantly reduced by deployment of both a commercially available balloon and a homemade device (eyes painted on a beach ball) (McLennan et al. 1995). The commercial device had a greater deterrent effect than the beach ball. The effect of both devices decreased with distance and was negligible at 40m. The deterrent effect increased when reinforced with a rotating light and playback of alarm calls. With continuous use, however, the deterrent effect declined and ceased after nine days.”
“McLennan et al. (1995) also evaluated eyespot balls as a bird deterrent in vineyards. In the first three weeks the balls repelled 90% of all birds except song thrushes, which had started to ignore them in the second week. Their deterrent effect had almost ceased after four weeks, but by this stage the grapes had ripened and become increasingly attractive to the birds. It could not be determined whether the balls failed because the birds had habituated to them or because the lure of food overcame the deterrent effect.”
“McNamara et al. (2002) found that scare-eye balloons failed to protect the plastic film surrounding bales of silage from bird damage, though ‘eyes’ painted onto the black plastic reduced damage by 65% compared to control bales.”
“Although easy to set up and move around, balloons can be easily damaged in high winds and can deteriorate in sunlight leading to a loss of helium and thus height. They also need to be regularly checked to ensure they cannot break free from their moorings and present a hazard to aircraft. In the UK, the flying of balloons is governed by the Air Navigation Order, which states that without the written permission of the Civil Aviation Authority, a tethered balloon can not be flown at a height of more than 60 m or within 5 km of any aerodrome (CAA 2002). Their effectiveness at scaring birds appears to be dependent on the species concerned and effects are only short-term.”
“Kites and kite-hawks work as mobile predator models, which birds perceive as a threat. The kites bear an image of a soaring raptor and are tethered to the ground. Conover (1983, cited in Harris and Davis 1998) tested four designs of hawk-kites, but none effectively deterred birds from feeding on corn. To be effective, kite-hawks need to be ‘flown’ beneath helium balloons in order to possess sufficient ‘threatening’ movement (Conover 1984). When this was done, the kites became more effective at scaring birds from the cornfields.”
“Other studies have found kite-hawks to be ineffective or are quickly habituated to (Inglis 1980). Hothem and Dehaven (1982) tested a hawk-kite resembling an immature golden eagle, suspended from a helium balloon. Although there was a slight decrease in percent of grapes damaged, it was effective only over a very small area, and damage increased elsewhere in the vineyard.”
“Helium-filled bird scaring kites have been deployed between dawn and dusk at landfill sites. Numbers of gulls, corvids and starlings on sites remained relatively unchanged and there was little evidence that birds were deterred from the sites (Baxter 2002c; undated).”
“Like balloons, kites and hawk-kites can be damaged by strong winds and may be difficult to keep up in the air when wind speeds exceed 8 km/hr (Hotherm and Dehaven 1982). As they pose no real threat to birds, do not behave like raptors and remain visible for long periods of time, birds quickly habituate to them. They are effective only over a small area and for a short period of time. As with balloons, their use in the UK is governed by the Air Navigation Order, requiring the written permission of the CAA for kites within 5 km of an aerodrome or at a height of more than 60 m.”
The ‘Vigilante’ Helikite is available in the UK at a cost of: £113.00 + VAT
The ‘Lightweight’ Helikite is available in the UK at a cost of: £98.00 + VAT
The ‘Kite Pole’ is available in the UK at a cost of: £150.00 + VAT
To date we have been unable to find any user reviews for The Helikite but we will update this section as and when user reviews are made available to us. If you are able to provide a user review for The Helikite please contact the Pigeon Control Resource Centre.
Comments from the Manufacturer/Distributor:
The manufacturer says the following of the ‘Vigilante’ Helikite:
“A unique combination of kite, helium balloon and protective balloon cover, the Vigilante Helikite flies up to 200 feet with up to 20 mph or without any wind to scare birds over areas as large as 25 acres.”
“The hovering Helikite mimics the action of birds of prey as it moves around the sky. Helikites have been shown to be the most powerful bird-scarer available in all the comparative bird-scaring trials they have participated in. The instinctive fear created within bird pests is very hard for them to overcome and so the bird control effect is extremely long lasting and over far larger areas than normal startle reaction bird-scarers.”
“The Vigilante Helikite will come down in the rain but the protective cover protects the balloon from punctures until it dries out and automatically re-launches itself again. They are very frugal with helium – only using a few pence worth of the gas per day. We consider Helikites to be the best bird-scarers in the world and we offer a money back birdscaring guarantee if birds get used to them within two months. As far as we know, no other birdscarer manufacturer in the world offers such a guarantee. If you have critical bird problems or large areas to control the Vigilante Helikite is the answer.”
The manufacturer says the following of the ‘Lightweight’ Helikite:
“Unlike a simple balloon, the Lightweight Helikite is a true aerostat, capable of keeping station steadily in winds up to 25 mph. It has 30 grams of pure helium lift and far more in a breeze. The Lightweight Helikite flies reliably near buildings, trees, etc. The Lightweight Helikite is formed by combining an extra large Mylar balloon with a specially made kite to form a Helikite which is aerodynamically sound and pushed up by the wind rather than pushed down. These Helikites have excellent helium holding properties so that topping up is only necessary once a week. Lightweight Helikites are very portable. When uninflated they can be folded up to fit in a coat pocket and yet will fly to over 1000ft once inflated.”
A US-based distributor of the Helikite range says the following of the Helikite range:
“Until now, bird control has always been a hit or miss affair, with old fashioned scarecrows or even the more modern noise makers and flashing scarers giving variable protection, making it impossible for property managers to rely on them for long to prevent expensive damage and often crippling losses. Birds are unpredictable and planning for them is difficult. However, unlike other scarers, the Vigilante Helikite will control birds even after they have acclimated to an area and started to eat a crop.”
“The scientifically designed, patented Vigilante Helikite is the first and only bird control system that really works well over a long period of time because birds find it extremely difficult to overcome the innate terror of predatory hawks that Helikites create. Wild hawks reinforce, so habituation is very unlikely - even after months without shooting. If you have a difficult bird problem, the powerful Vigilante Helikite is probably the only scarer really capable of protecting your livelihood.”
“With the Vigilante Helikite, angry neighbors, frightened livestock, and visits from the noise complaints authorities are a thing of the past. Noise is not required for effective bird control. Sight is the major sense in birds and so they are affected far more by an instinctive visual stimulus than by anything they hear - just like the human fear of snakes and spiders. Silent control makes Bird Scaring feasible in many previously impossible situations - like pig and cattle facilities, grain storage, land fill sites, or near built-up areas. Humane to all, and safe no explosive gas.”
“You can launch a Vigilante Helikite next to populated areas where noisy bangers or wailers would cause objections. Local people will appreciate your concern for them and the environment. You will get a better night's sleep as well!”
Editorial comments:The Helikite is an interesting variation on the predator balloon and offers the user a relatively inexpensive and maintenance-free bird scaring option for more entrenched bird-related problems. The device provides a good bird-scaring option for applications where noise or other visual media has the potential to cause disturbance to humans or farm animals. The Helikite can be used for urban bird control applications as a complementary control but there will be numerous logistical problems inherent with this usage. The ‘Lightweight’ Helikite is recommended for urban applications and it is likely that in most cases the product would be tethered to a ‘Kite Pole’ where it is less likely to cause problems when the balloon is brought down in strong winds or rain. The Helikite is extremely easy to transport with the ‘Lightweight’ Helikite fitting into a coat pocket when uninflated. The ‘Kite Pole’ is also relatively easy to transport reducing down to just 1.3 metres by 8cm when collapsed. Most bird scarers will need to be moved regularly in order to be effective and to keep habituation down to a minimum, so the ease with which this product can be transported is a major plus point. The range of birds that will be deterred by the Helikite is also impressive making the product ideal for use in areas such as landfill sites. The Helikite is praised for its effectiveness as a bird scarer on both manufacturer and distributor websites but these views are not shared by DEFRA where the use of balloons and kites are concerned. DEFRA suggests that habituation to these products is normal, in some cases within a matter of days, and that both kites and balloons pose no real threat to pest species of birds. DEFRA also suggests that kites and balloons are only effective for a short period in small areas. As with all bird-scaring products, it seems likely that the Helikite will only be effective if provided as part of an overall control system involving other scaring products with, where appropriate, anti-perching products. Operational problems include the requirement for the user to apply for a written licence from the CAA if flying the Helikite within 5 kilometres of an aerodrome or airport and the obvious problems inherent with the Helikite coming down in strong winds or rain. The Helikite will also need to be moved regularly, again in an effort to reduce habituation, and this will require human interaction. The helium gas will also need to be topped up from time to time but we have no information on how easy or difficult this process will be and how often it will need to be carried out. We have contacted the manufacturer with several questions about The Helikite but they have failed to provide the information and therefore this review is less than comprehensive as a result.
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:
Bird kite, kite, helium balloon, bird blimps, aerostat, deterrent balloon, helikite scarer, bird balloon, vigilante helikite, lightweight helikite, pigeon kite, heli kite
Relevance to pigeon control:
The ‘Helikite’ is not commonly associated with pigeon control but the product is marketed for the control of feral pigeons. The ‘Helikite’ is more commonly used for agricultural applications but could be used to compliment an existing pigeon control system