Lasers - Avian Dissuader & Bird Phazer
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OverviewLaser technology is now being used more commonly as a bird deterrent and research into effective scaring techniques using low-power lasers is ongoing. The most common type of laser used for bird control is the handheld laser which resembles a small handgun. Other formats exist including a rifle which is designed to produce a narrow spot of light for more precise targeting and a laser ‘stick’ which resembles a conventional torch. The main benefits of a laser is that the product is silent, environmentally safe, simple to use and non-lethal. The main disadvantage of a laser is that the product is considered to be ineffective in daylight, certainly in strong sunlight, and has its main use between dusk and dawn. This restricts its use to the control of those species that are active during darkness or dawn/dusk as well as for the control of roosting birds.
The laser is not commonly associated with pigeon control due to the fact that the pigeon is not active during the hours of darkness or at dusk and therefore the product has been more or less ignored by the pigeon control industry. As the laser is developed and as trials are undertaken to establish a broader application for the product, pigeon control will inevitably be a major consideration. If the laser could be used to effect as a roost inhibitor, or as a scaring device in low-light conditions, the product would undoubtedly be used far more extensively for the purposes of pigeon control.
The most common handheld laser on the market is the 'Avian Dissuader'. The 'Avian Dissuader' is small, only 23mm long, and weighs less than 900 grams making the unit extremely user-friendly, particularly for prolonged use. The laser is powered by a 9 volt battery which is located within the handgrip of the unit for easy access and for normal usage the unit will operate for up to 30 days. The laser has an effective range of up to 800 metres with a variable beam width. Technical specifications are as follows:
- Laser wavelength: 650nm
- Laser output: 50mW (Class 3 111b)
- Minimum beam divergence: .60 millirad, full angle
- Nominal hazard zone for human eye safety (10 second exposure without blinking): 91.44 metres at narrowest beam setting
- Beam diameter (at the output aperture): 50mm
The ‘Bird Phazer’ laser is a stick-shaped DPSS green laser (diode pumped solid state) which is a powerful handheld laser with a range of up to 12.87 kilometres. Maximum efficiency is achieved by using the unit between dusk and dawn. The unit is powered by 2 ‘C’ cell batteries which will operate for up to 2 hours. Technical specifications are as follows:
- Class: 111B OEM, < 50 mW
- Spot size: 4mm at 3 metres
- Wavelength: 532nm, Super bight green
- Voltage: 3.0-3.3Vdc at 450-510mA
One serious problem associated with the use of lasers as a bird scaring device is the fact that the product can be indiscriminate when used with a wide beam and in darkness. In low-light conditions, at dusk or dawn for example, the beam can be trained on the target species with ease ensuring that there is no ‘over-spill’ that may disturb non-target species or birds or animals. In darkness, however, the beam from the laser is visible over a large area and may disturb non-target species birds or possibly protected species of birds. For example, if a laser was used in an urban environment to scare pigeons and if protected species such as swallows or house martins were scared sufficiently to abandon their nests, there would be serious legal consequences for the property owner.As research has shown that the laser is more effective when the beam is shone directly into the eyes of the target species concerns have been raised in respect of potential damage to the eyes of the birds concerned. Although research carried out by the National Wildlife Research Centre in the USA has confirmed that even when eyes were exposed to long periods of uninterrupted exposure to laser beams there appeared to be no physical damage to the eye, inevitable concerns still exist. The avian eye generally filters the most damaging radiation (short-wavelength radiation from the sun) very efficiently and therefore exposure to laser beams should not damage the avian eye. As the laser is a relatively new product in this application, however, long-term tests need to be undertaken to ensure that ocular damage will not arise in cases of extended exposure over long periods.
Lasers cannot be seen as a stand-alone scaring device and in most cases the product will need to be complimented by other scaring techniques or anti-perching products to ensure effectiveness. Habituation is common problem with all scaring devices and unless the source of the problem (available food, access to good roosting and breeding sites) is removed or compromised, scaring will be considerably less effective. Similarly, if alternative feeding/breeding areas are not available to the target species within the immediate vicinity of the area to be protected, any product or technique employed is likely to be unsuccessful.
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.
“As the demand for non-lethal, environmentally safe methods of bird scaring has increased, interest has grown in the use of lasers, particularly low-power lasers that work under low light conditions. The low power levels, accuracy over distance, silence and the ability to direct them on specific problem birds, makes laser devices an attractive alternative to other avian scaring devices. Birds are startled by the strong contrast between the ambient light and the laser beam. During low light conditions this technique is very selective, but at night the light beam is visible over a large distance and hence can cause non-selective disturbance. Unpublished data from trials on French airfields indicate that these devices are ineffective in bright daylight conditions, and the device worked best when shone in birds’ eyes. Results of pilot trials undertaken on UK cormorants and goosanders support this effect (McKay et al. 1999).”
“Lasers have been tested in a number of countries. In France, a laser gun was used to disturb cormorants from a night roost (Troilliet pers. comm., cited in Boudewijn and Dirksen 1996). During cloudy weather the method worked well, with most of the birds scared away within 20 minutes, and treatment over consecutive evenings caused the temporary desertion of the roost. Cormorants appeared to be particularly sensitive to laser light. Similar results were obtained at a cormorant night-roost in the region of the Dombes, France. After using a laser gun for two nights, the night-roost was deserted for a week (Broyer 1995, cited in Boudewijn and Dirksen 1996). Successful results were also achieved in America using the laser gun ‘Avian Dissuader’, costing US$900. The laser treatment cleared roosting crows from the Capitol complex within an hour (State Capitol Bureau 2001). The long-term success is not reported.”
“In Britain, laser light was tested against two cormorant night roosts (McKay et al 1999). At one site cormorant numbers were significantly reduced after seven consecutive days use and bird numbers did not return to normal until between 12 and 30 days later. At the other site, the laser gun was less effective with some birds failing to leave the roost. The laser also deterred goosanders though the effect lasted less than one day.”
“The laser gun used in this British study was a purpose-built device produced by Desman S.A.R.L. of France and cost £4633 (at 1996 prices). Training in its use by the manufacturer cost another £1056. There were some questions over safety of the device because although the company state that the laser was safe, they also advised that it should not be pointed at humans. The device has been tested for safety at the UK Government’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), Farnborough, England and found to be safe if it was not pointed at an unprotected eye within a distance of 155 m (McKay et al. 1999). The safe distance was considerably reduced if viewed with binoculars.”
“The use of lasers can be an effective method of bird scaring, although there is some evidence to suggest some birds are laser-resistant (McKay et al. 1999). The equipment is expensive and specialised training is required, adding to the costs. As the effectiveness of the laser decreases with increasing light levels, it is likely to be most effective at dawn and dusk. Its usefulness may therefore be confined to night time roosts and feeding sites at dawn. As it is operated manually user costs at antisocial hours must also be taken into consideration. However, the ability to ‘target’ specific problem species may be useful at certain sites, such as areas of conservation interest, where disturbance of non-target species may be kept to a minimum.”
The ‘Avian Dissuader’ handheld laser gun is not listed as being available from suppliers within the UK. The ‘Avian Dissuader’ is available in the USA for $1250.00.
The ‘Pro Bird Phazer’ handheld laser gun is not listed as being available from suppliers within the UK. The ‘Pro Bird Phazer’is available in the USA for $495.00
The following article was taken from the USDA/APHIS/National Wildlife Centre website in respect of the ‘Avian Dissuader’ laser. The ‘Avian Dissuader’ was subjected to the Air Force Management and Material Evaluation Programme (MEEP), a long-term test controlled out of Langley Air Force Base, USA. The handheld laser was put to the test in a variety of situations important to the Air Force and its performance resulted in a positive recommendation by MEEP for use inside hangars, outbuildings and other field locations.
Bird/Aircraft strike evaluation at US Naval Air Stations
Under Interagency Agreements with the U.S. Navy, NWRC biologists from Fort Collins, CO, are evaluating bird/aircraft strike hazard problems at Point Mugu and San Clemente Naval Air Stations, CA, and assessing habitat modification management techniques. At both naval air stations, researchers are using a geographic information system (GIS) to record habitat types adjacent to runways and the numbers, species, locations, altitudes and local movements of birds on and near airfields. NWRC researchers also evaluated the use of the Avian Dissuader (a low-power laser hazing device) for dispersing birds at Point Mugu Naval Air Station. For three days, lasers were used to haze waterfowl, turkey vultures, shorebirds, herons, and red-tailed hawks at night. After 2000 hrs (10 PM), the laser was used successfully to haze all waterfowl species except for American coots. Additionally, while great blue herons appeared to be unaffected by the laser, white herons reacted quickly and moved to other locations. None of the species was affected by the daytime use of the laser.
The following is feedback from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto. The RCYT has been using the ‘Avian Dissuader’ on Canada Geese for approximately two years:
“I would like to start by thanking everyone at your organization for your excellent work. For the last 10 years I have worked as a grounds keeper at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto, Canada. My job is keeping the club clean and it's a big club - they have tennis courts and lawn bowling ranges, the works. We have had a real problem with Canada Geese for years and the Geese get in everywhere.”
“I never usually write letters to companies, but when I started using your laser it changed my working life. I didn't think it would work as good as it does. It’s really amazing. The property manger was so happy with the results that he even gave me a little raise. I have never used a tool for bird control that works as good as your laser.”
“Please tell everyone at Sea Tech that the grounds crew at the RCYC say their doing a Great Job!”
The following feedback is in relation to use of the ‘Pro Bird Phazer’ laser:
Colorado ‘Rid-a-Critter’ said the following of ‘Pro Bird Phazer’:
"We used it to control 1000-1500 geese at a water treatment plant. We can direct their flight at a distance of 300-400 yards."
John Schaus, Katonah, NY said the following of ‘Pro Bird Phazer’:
"They work fantastic. It is like you electrify the ground. They have to get off. Unbelievable."
Comments from the Manufacturer/Distributor:
The following comments and FAQ’s about ‘Avian Dissuader’ were taken from the ‘Avian Dissuader’ website:
“Using the "flashlight" laser model, developed for the military, SEA Tech then tested it in conjunction with the USDA/APHIS/ WS Wildlife Research Center in Sandusky Ohio (testing funded by FAA). The results of that testing, both penned and field, show that the 650nm wavelength "Red" laser is highly effective on most aquatic, wading, and night flying birds. This would include Geese, Ducks, Gulls, Egrets, Herons, Cranes, Plovers, Ibis, Cormorants, Stilts, Crows, Ravens, Mynas, and Vultures, plus others. Sea Tech then developed a laser designed for bird control which is as powerful as the "flashlight" model but has a pistol grip for easy aiming at smaller targets and is substantially less expensive.”
“The Avian Dissuader® is handheld and designed to be used between dusk and dawn - primarily to deny the targeted birds their desired roost. Forcing birds to a different overnight roost usually means that they go somewhere else to forage (find food) during the day. Simply point the Dissuader in the general direction of the birds you are targeting.”
“If you are working with birds that are sitting in a body of water, start by pointing the laser down at the water. This will cause the beam to reflect off the water and cause a spot to appear. Move that spot out towards the birds in a start/stop indirect manner that would tend to mimic the movements of a predator.”
“With birds in a tree, simply point the laser into the tree, starting from the bottom and working up. Move the laser back and forth while you walk around the tree to make sure it is cleared - this is especially important with deciduous trees that contain dense foliage as it provides "hiding places" for the birds.”
“The reflection of the beam spot off of foliage, water, or even other birds is what frightens them away. It is not necessary to have the laser beam actually touch the birds to be effective (although there is no harm in this). Once the roost is completely clear, the birds will not normally return that night. Field-testing has shown that 3 to 7 nights of using the laser to deny the desired roost has a substantial impact on subsequent daytime and night-time population.”
“How often the laser must be used to control the targeted population depends on species, location, and other dynamics such as alternative roosting sites and/or alternative food sources. Generally though, after introducing the laser for sufficient nights to break the roost, the birds will leave and only send their "scouts" back periodically to see if the roost is now OK. Re-introducing the laser to these "scouts" will prevent the flock from returning. Most encouraging is that both penned and field-testing by customers and the USDA/APHIS/Wildlife Services have not shown any tendency of nocturnal birds to learn to ignore the laser. Indeed, some species appear to become more frightened of the Dissuader when it is re-introduced.”
“Part of the testing the National Wildlife Research Center conducted was the effect of high powered, 650nm wavelength, lasers on the birds targeted - their findings showed no physical harm to the birds or their vision systems even after many hours of uninterrupted exposure. Since the birds' eyes are coated with a film, or oils depending on species, to protect them from the UV rays of the sun, they appear to have a natural vision defense against the beam generated by the laser. Although mostly night-flying birds were a part of testing, this natural defense appears to also apply with diurnal birds or birds who are normally active in the day time.”
How does the laser work?
The birds are frightened of the reflected "spot" the laser makes on the grass, leaves, water, or other birds. When they see that spot near them they fly away. The laser "spot" does not need to touch the birds to be effective.
What bird species is the Dissuader most effective on?
It is highly effective on most aquatic, wading, and night flying birds. This would include Geese, Ducks, Gulls, Egrets, Herons, Cranes, Plovers, Ibis, Cormorants, Stilts, Crows, Ravens, Mynas, and Vultures.
Does the Dissuader work on Pigeons, Starlings, Sparrows or Grackles?
Yes, but with limitations - the Dissuader will only be effective indoors, or outdoors at night on small flocks that are roosting (2,000 birds or less) - it is not effective outdoors during the day at all on these birds.
The lasers' best use for these bird species would be in the same manner that Wal-Mart uses the Dissuader to clear their stores and distribution warehouses:
The birds perch/roost on the overhead beams above the lights; meaning that the ambient light levels are fairly low. The lasers (they use a minimum of two) are then used to "herd" the birds out doors or into capture nets where they are captured and carried outside.
This approach allows everyone to work from the ground and allows a large area to be cleared in about one hour.
How large an area will the Dissuader effectively cover?
Field use has demonstrated reliable effectiveness of 1/2 mile. Greater distances (up to 1 mile) have been accomplished under favorable conditions (e.g. rural setting with very little ambient light, no fog, and less than a full moon)
How long does it take to scare the birds away?
That depends on how large an area the birds are roosting in and how many birds there are, but not long. Allow an hour on your first night with most of that spent investigating whether the roost is clear.
Does it work during the day?
Generally no, we have found two species, Herons and Egrets who are highly affected during the day, but most other species will ignore the laser in bright daylight conditions. It is generally effective, however, on overcast, cloudy days. Rule of thumb for effectiveness is - if you can see the reflection of the beam spot off the grass/leaves/water - so can the birds and it will be effective.
It is also important to add that, often it is most desirable to chase birds away from their roost at night because that is where the birds feel most safe and protected. Denying them that safety usually means they won't be around to eat or loaf during the day - this is especially true with Canada Geese.
How long does the battery last and is it a regular 9 volt battery?
The battery lasts about 30 days in normal use (20 to 30 min of use "trigger depressed" per day) and is a regular alkaline 9 volt battery. We have designed in very efficient usage of power.
Editorial comments:The laser would appear to have limited applications as a bird scaring device due to the fact that the product is considerably less effective when used in daylight. Although the ‘Avian Dissuader’ was found to be extremely effective when used to control pigeons, in daylight hours, whilst roosting and perching on a food processing plant in New Zealand, the consensus suggests that the product is less than effective when used as a daytime scaring device.
As with most scaring products there are also concerns in respect of habituation and therefore the product will almost certainly need to be used in conjunction with other scaring devices and anti-perching products where appropriate. The laser is clearly species-specific and will be completely ineffective with some species but surprisingly effective with others. The laser has been particularly effective when used to control Canada Geese and other waterfowl such as cormorants but the product clearly has limitations when used in an urban application. The laser is also context-specific confirming that the product will not necessarily offer the same degree of scaring on each site where it is used. Weather conditions and the availability of alternative sources of food and roosts will both impact on the success of the laser.
The use of a laser is labour-intensive requiring a trained operator to use the product during anti-social hours, inevitably resulting in higher user-costs. The cost of the product itself has reduced dramatically since it first came onto the market as a bird scaring device with current prices of the ‘Avian Dissuader’ and the ‘Pro Bird Phazer’ as low as £625.00 and £250.00 respectively. These products cannot be considered to be highly priced relative to other electronic and sonic scaring devices.
Safety is still an issue where use of the laser is concerned both for the operator, other human beings in the vicinity and for the target species. Although trials suggest that birds are likely to be resistant to ocular damage it is clear that human beings are not. The UK Government’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) at Farnborough found that a French-made laser was safe provided it was not pointed directly at the human eye within a distance of 155 metres. The manufacturer of the French laser confirmed that the product was safe but that it should not be pointed at humans. This safety warning does not inspire confidence in the user and also raises inevitable concerns over misuse of the product.
The laser is recommended for use as a roost inhibitor but it is clear that the product can only be effective with nocturnal species if used in darkness, thus reducing the versatility of the product. There are also concerns voiced by DEFRA that the laser can cause non-selective disturbance when used in darkness due to the fact that the light beam is visible over a large area. This could cause serious issues should the product be used in the vicinity of rare or protected species of breeding birds. It should also be pointed out that the light beam could also cause human disturbance when used in darkness.
The laser has its main application in rural environments, on water and on airfields but not in urban environments. Although the laser appears to have been successful in moving pigeons from their perches on a food processing plant, it is unlikely that the product could be used to effect in a town or city centre or in residential areas. For conventional pest control applications the laser is unlikely to be a particularly useful tool, nor is it likely to be effective as a stand-alone scaring device, but the product may have a role to play as part of an overall control system (in areas of low human habitation) when using a variety of scaring techniques.
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:
Light gun, laser scarer, light scarer, laser guns, green lasers, avian laser, avian dissuader, pro bird phazer, bird dissuader, avian phazer
Relevance to pigeon control:
Lasers are not normally associated with pigeon control but some success has been achieved where the control of pigeons is concerned. Lasers would not be used as a stand-alone pigeon deterrent but may be used to compliment a scaring or deterrent-based control system