Sonic & Bio-acoustic Pigeon & Bird Control Systems
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OverviewFor those considering a sonic system that includes a high-frequency ultrasonic option it is extremely important to confirm that the area in which the unit is intended to be used should not be inhabited by bats. Bats may be disturbed by ultra high-frequency sound and bats are a protected species in the UK. It is an offence to interfere with their roosting sites or to disturb them in any way. For further information on the law where bats are concerned please read the following webpage: www.bats.org.uk.
‘Ultrasonic Systems’ product review. Sonic systems produce a variety of electronically-generated sounds normally emitting noise levels up to 120 dB (A) and are designed to frighten birds with loud and unpleasant noises. Sonic noise is sound that is audible to the human ear – ultrasonic sound is normally not audible to the human ear but in some cases can be heard by women or young children. Bio-acoustic systems use natural alarm and distress calls as well as predator calls in order to create a hostile environment for the target species. Alarm calls are made when the bird perceives itself to be in danger, distress calls are made when the bird is in pain or has been attacked by a predator and predator calls are cries made by a predatory bird. Distress calls, alarm calls and predator calls are audible to the human ear.Sonic bird control systems are becoming more common in the bird control sector and broadly speaking fall into three distinct categories; ultrasonic systems, sonic systems and bio-acoustic systems. For information on ultrasonic systems please see our
Pure sonic systems are not widely available for the purpose of bird control with a majority of sonic devices being provided as part of a 2/3/4-way or even a 5-way system. These systems may include any of the following; distress calls, alarm calls, predator calls, ultrasonic sounds and sonic sounds. In some cases these systems are complimented by strobe lights providing a visual scaring element to the system. Most systems are available for internal or external use and a majority of the combo systems have multi-speaker options for ‘surround-sound’ scaring. Some units are available with only one integral speaker for more limited applications but can run up to 4 additional speakers providing greater coverage. One US-made single-speaker bio-acoustic system that offers 2 or 4-speaker options suggests that coverage will double (from 3-acres to 6-acres) when increasing the number of speakers from 2 to 4.
The most effective sonic systems appear to be those that are programmable and which offer sonic, ultrasonic and bio-acoustic options. For the purposes of this review it is these systems that we will concentrate upon. A majority of these systems are static systems with multi-speaker options that would normally be used for the protection of larger areas such as football stadiums or large industrial warehouses. For smaller more intimate areas the single-speaker units may be more appropriate but many of these units are only available with single-voice options such as distress calls or predator calls. Where sonic systems are installed in areas in areas of human habitation it must be understood that noise will be generated which may be intrusive, unpleasant and anti-social. For any type of urban application a thorough survey of the area must first be undertaken to assess the potential for human disturbance. If a sonic system is to be considered for an internal application such as a factory unit where people are working, care must be taken to ensure that workers do not suffer sonic disturbance (or visual disturbance if a combo unit with a strobe is used).
Most sonic systems are powered by mains electricity (AC current) for ease of use and in an effort to reduce the need for human interaction, but a majority of systems also offer a battery-powered option (DC current) and in some cases a solar panel option as well. As previously mentioned, most systems providing more than one scaring option are offered with up to 4-speakers and normally supplied with approximately 100 foot of cable per speaker. The ‘Broadband Pro’ ultrasonic/sonic system is typical of the high-specification combo units offering the following specifications:
- Ultrasonic frequency range: 15-25 KHz
- Sonic frequency range: 3-5 KHz
- Ultrasonic sound pressure: 95-102 dB (per speaker) at 1 metre
- Sonic sound pressure: 105-110 dB (per speaker) at 1 metre
- Coverage: 10,000 square feet (2,500 square feet per speaker)
The ‘Broadband Pro’ is a fully programmable unit offering the following switching and timer options:
- Switchable sound options: Distress calls, Predator sounds, Sonic sounds
- Constant sounds: Ultrasonic sounds play constantly
- Ultrasonic modes: High frequency, Medium frequency, Low frequency
- Operation modes: Delay period (time between playing calls), Time of operation, Random mode
- Delay period settings: Short/Medium/Long/Extra Long
- Timed operations: Day only/24 hour/Night only
- Random settings: Mode on, Mode off
Of the scaring options included in most programmable high-specification combo units it is the bio-acoustic options that are considered to be the most effective by experts. Although the other scaring options do have some validity there is a view that habituation to sonic and ultrasonic sound is rapid based on the fact that these sounds will have no biological significance to the target species. It is also the case that most sonic devices are species specific. Some sonic devices used to deter birds, such as air horns and air-raid sirens, can actually inflict pain on the target species and also cause hearing damage. These controls must be considered to be inhumane and should not be used. It is also the case that any combo unit that uses high-frequency ultrasound (ultrasonic sound) may affect and disturb bat populations and therefore should not be used in any area where there may be bat populations present.
According to manufacturers and distributors, ultrasonic bird scarers are particularly effective for use with pigeons but some scientists and independent experts in the bird control sector do not agree with this view. Daniel Haag Wackernagel, a leading scientist researching pigeon control, found that pigeons were not deterred by ultra high-frequency sound. Other scientific research discussed on the DEFRA website suggests that most species of birds do not hear ultrasonic sound in the range of 20 KHz and therefore there is no valid biological base for the assumption that ultrasonic can be used to any effect as a bird scarer. Sonic sounds may be marginally more effective but only in the short-term. This suggests that any sonic unit should not only be programmable, in order to vary the duration of sounds and calls, but should also be equipped with both bio-acoustic and sonic/ultrasonic sounds in order to be an effective deterrent.
Bio-acoustic sounds are considered to be effective for general-purpose bird-scaring due to the fact that they act on the target species’ instinct to avoid danger. Although bio-acoustic sounds are believed to be more effective than sonic/ultrasonic sounds, predator call sounds are unlikely to be effective as these sounds have little biological meaning for most species of pest bird as a result of the fact that hawks and falcons hunt silently. Similarly, some commonly controlled species of bird such as the feral pigeon and the Canada goose do not have distress calls and therefore distress call-related sounds are unlikely to have any effect on these species. This said, most suppliers of sonic devices market their products for use against both pigeons and Canada geese. It is therefore the case that even bio-acoustic sounds are species-specific and in many cases context/site-specific too. If the area around the site where the device is being used offers little in the way of alternative food or roosting opportunities any system provided is unlikely to be successful.
One of the major disadvantages of a sonic system is the speed with which the target species will habituate to it. The system will therefore not only need to be programmable in order to vary the frequency and timing of the sounds but the speakers, and possibly the entire system, may have to be physically moved in order to prevent rapid habituation. For static systems this will be considerably more problematic and time consuming than for hand-held devices.
Another major consideration when siting a sonic device is proximity to human habitation. The benefit of a fully programmable device is that the various sounds and calls (and lights if applicable) can be switched off at times when the device may be liable to cause disturbance, but the more basic units may need to be manually switched requiring regular human interaction. In the case of all sonic systems the transmission of sound will be effected by wind, temperature and the deflection of sound waves from surrounding buildings and therefore finding the optimum site may be time consuming. It is also the case that when the speakers need to be re-located due to the risk of habituation, the process of risk assessment must be undertaken all over again to ensure that the reflected sounds not only continue to be effective as a deterrent but also do not disturb people living or working in the vicinity.
The sonic bird scarer is a relatively inexpensive product based on the sheer number of scaring options provided together in one unit, certainly in the case of the multi-function scarers, but the issue of habituation is an ongoing concern for users. Most experts believe that sonic products, be they bio-acoustic, ultrasonic, sonic or a combination of all three can only ever play a part in an overall control strategy combining other deterrents and anti-perching products. Although the product may appear to be reasonably priced based on the various options available to the user and relative to some of the more cost-prohibitive exclusion products such as bird netting, when provided as part of an overall control system the product does not seem quite so cost-effective. Many users will purchase this product because they are simply looking for a maintenance-free option that is clean, cheap to run and which has numerous operating options. It is possible, however, that the product will not quite live up to their expectations when the necessity to regularly re-site the product and/or the speakers to reduce habituation is taken into consideration, combined with the probable need to complement the system with deterrents.
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.
“Bio-acoustic deterrents are sonic devices that transmit sounds of biological relevance: recorded bird alarm and distress calls. In general, alarm calls are given when birds perceive danger, whilst distress calls are vocalised when birds are captured, restrained or injured. These calls are species-specific and can cause conspecifics to take flight. Alarm and distress calls, however, may also evoke a response in other species that are taxonomically related to the call-producing species (Baxter et al. 1999) or which closely associate with it. Responding to alarm/distress calls has a high survival value, therefore such biologically meaningful sounds are more repellent and more resistant to habituation than other sounds (Bomford & O’Brien 1990, Harris & Davis 1998). However reactions to distress calls can vary both with the species and the individual bird (Schmidt & Johnson 1983); in some groups such as gulls, alarm/distress calls initially act as an attractant with birds approaching the source, apparently to investigate, before flying away (Brough 1968).”
“A number of sonic devices and pre-recorded alarm and distress calls are now readily available commercially and such devices are widely used for bird control. Some devices can produce noise levels u to 110dB(A) (at six metres) and have a useful operating distance of 300 m (Scarecrow Bio-acoustic Systems website). In Haifa, Israel, more than 80% of visiting night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) were frightened off trout ponds when recorded distress calls of juvenile and adult (combined) night herons were broadcast (Spanier 1980, cited in Kevan 1992). Baxter (2002c; undated) found that distress calls resulted in immediate and almost complete clearance of gulls and corvids (crows, rooks and jackdaws) from landfill sites, though the effects were short-term (3-6 weeks), and birds quickly returned when equipment broke down. In deterring waterbirds from areas of oil spills, biosonics were highly species-specific but worked particularly well on gulls and some herons, with slow habituation (Greer and O’Connor 1994, cited in Reilly 1995).”
“Bio-acoustics are seen as the most effective and cheapest ways of dispersing birds from airfields, once the equipment has been bought and staff trained (CAA 2002). Only distress calls are used as birds react to these in a characteristic and thus more predictable manner. The calls are broadcast for about 90 seconds from a stationary vehicle approximately 100 m from the target flock.”
“Static, free-standing systems can be used on smaller areas, though a louder volume may be needed to effectively cover the area (Booth 1983, cited in Kevan 1992), but constant exposure to a sound that originates from the same location can quickly encourage habituation as well as causing a noise nuisance to adjacent areas. Mobile, hand-held or vehicle mounted systems that can be used in response to a bird problem are deemed more effective (CAA 2002; Booth 1983, cited in Kevan 1992), though they will be more expensive due to the labour involved. Brough (1969) stated that bird recordings and broadcasts should be made with attention to accuracy, signal strength and clarity, as a reduction in any of these would degrade the calls from a recognizable signal to a meaningless noise, so lessening their effect. More recently however, digitally recorded, high quality calls are readily available. Some birds, like pigeons and Canada geese do not produce easily identifiable alarm and distress calls, and the use of calls from other species may not be totally effective. Research into this problem is ongoing (N. Horton pers. comm.).”
“Broadcasts of raptor calls have been used in attempts to deter pest species from, for example, airports (Harris & Davis 1998) based on the theory that playback of the call signals that a predator is close by. Raptors, however, hunt silently and so the use of recorded raptor calls has no clear biological basis for use in such circumstances. However, the playback of a peregrine falcon call dispersed gulls at Vancouver International Airport (Gunn 1973, cited in Harris and Davis 1998), although this was not properly controlled (i.e. compared to the effects of other auditory sources such as random noise).”
“Sonic systems that produce a variety of electronically-produced sounds are also commercially available. They can emit noise at levels up to 120dB(A) at one metre (BanCannons website, Harris and Davis 1998). The range of loud and sudden noises they produce can frighten birds but as they have no biological meaning the risk of habituation is great (Harris and Davis 1998). Sonic systems like the Phoenix Wailer also produce bird alarm and distress calls as well as electronic sounds up to 119 dB(A) at five metres, though the volume is adjustable for use near built up areas (Phoenix Deterrent Systems Ltd). With static systems, frequent changes in location and adjustments to the sounds can reduce habituation (Harris and Davis 1998). There is no evidence that ultrasonic devices deter birds (Hamershock, undated). In fact, evidence indicates that most species of birds do not hear in the ultrasonic range (>20kHz) (Erickson et al. 1992, Harris & Davis 1998) and so there is no biological basis for their use. Haag-Wackernagel (2000) and Woronecki (1988) both found that pigeons were undeterred by an ultrasonic system.”
“High intensity sounds such as sonic booms, horns and air-raid sirens, at close range, can cause distress or pain, which will cause birds to leave. At greater distances, the sounds can cause startle reactions amongst birds, though for the sound to cover any distance, the sound level at its source would have to be of an extremely high intensity (Harris and Davis 1998). Greer and O’Connor (1994, cited in Reilly 1995) found waterfowl quickly habituated to airhorns and Martin (1986) observed that after four to six weeks, barn owls were perching on the generating units of ultra-high intensity sounds. This technique can cause hearing damage and other human health effects and so cannot be recommended (Harris and Davis 1998).”
“Systems using bio-acoustics are the most effective sonic devices available as they act on the birds’ instinct to avoid danger. Their effectiveness is determined by the use of species-specific calls and the availability of alternative areas to move to. Although such systems can be placed in a field on a random timer sequence, birds will quickly habituate to such a device if it is not frequently moved, and it may cause noise nuisance in adjacent areas. A manually-operated system that is used only when birds are present will be more expensive but will also be more effective and less likely to become a nuisance. With all systems, sound transmission will be influenced by ambient temperature, wind direction and reflections from surrounding features such as buildings, and such factors need to be taken into consideration when siting sonic devices (Scarecrow Bio-acoustic Systems website). As with most methods of bird control, an integrated approach using a variety of techniques is likely to be more effective and reduce habituation rates (Schmidt and Johnson 1983).”
The ‘Broadband Pro’ sonic system is available in the UK priced at £686.66 + VAT
The ‘Wailer’ range of sonic/ultrasonic scarers is a range of products manufactured in the UK and which can be provided as sonic or ultrasonic units. The range consists of the following:
- The ‘Maxi Wailer’ – a fully automated battery powered unit costing £355.00 + VAT
- ‘The Wailer’ – a fully programmable unit with the optional extra programmer. The cost of the base unit is £355.00 + VAT with the programmer costing £134.00 + VAT
- The ‘Midi Wailer’ – a general purpose unit available as a battery or mains powered option costing £260.00 + VAT for the battery options and £284.00 + VAT for the mains powered option
The following is a report from ‘Waste Age’ magazine:
The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) operates the largest landfill site in Rhode Island, USA, and has historically experienced a huge problem with gulls. Bill Jasparro, Plant Manager, trialled the ‘Broadband Pro’ sonic system on the site:
“We have one of the largest landfills on the East Coast, with an average of 750 trucks a day tipping approximately 4000 tons of solid waste at this site. Thousands and thousands of gulls follow the trucks into the dumping area to feats on anything they can get their beaks on.”
“We know we can’t totally eliminate the gulls but we need to control them.”
“We tried many approaches” said Jasparro, which included many industry standard scaring products such as screamers, bangers and a system of criss-crossed tuna lines (steel wires), all of which were ineffective.
Jasparro then installed a ‘Broadband Pro’ unit on the 180 feet by 350 feet Tipping Floor facility’s roof as well as a ‘Terror Eyes’ predator balloon and a ‘Prowler Owl’ deterrent.
“Within two weeks we had major positive results” Jasparro said “I was 99% satisfied and I remain 99% satisfied. While the unit doesn’t eliminate gulls it keeps most of them away from people-sensitive areas.”
The RIRRC has now purchased two more units for use on other facilities within the same site.
Comments from the Manufacturer/Distributor:
The following description of the ‘Broadband Pro’ sonic system is provided by a UK supplier of the product:
“Can be used against Seagulls and Pigeons or anywhere where there is a persistent pest bird problem in a large open space. The system uses a combination of distress calls, predator calls and ultrasonic outputs to deter pest birds from roosting and perching.”
“Can be used against Seagulls and Pigeons or anywhere where there is a persistent pest bird problem in a large open space. The ultimate off-the-shelf combined acoustic & ultrasonic deterrent in the war against pest birds. For use in heavily infested areas this system employs both acoustic and ultrasonic sounds to drive-out and keep-out pest birds. The Super Broadband Pro employs heavy-duty "surround sound".”
“The Super Broadband Pro has a separate control box plus four powerful directional speakers (each with 30 meters of wire allowing remote location) offering greatest all-around flexibility. Targets pest birds with an unrelenting combination of species-specific distress cries, predators, general harassments, and newest-technology ultrasonic waves. Distress Cries repel Starlings, Gulls, Pigeons and more:
- 3 Harassments are an extra incentive to for the birds to leave.
- Powerful Ultrasonics round-off the sound attack.
- 3 Predator Cries add terror and realism.”
“Ultrasonic sounds, stand guard all day and night. Sound harassments deliver an all-bird defence. Distress cries indicate danger. Predator sounds provide an added menace. The ultrasonics can be left to run 24/7 whilst the acoustic sounds can be set to operate during daylight hours only.”
“The weatherproof Super Broadband Pro can be used outdoors or indoors. Super Broadband Pro is designed with commercial & light industrial use in mind. However due to it's robust construction it can be used just about anywhere it is required as long as there is 220 vAC mains power available. The unit employs heavy-duty "surround sound" incorporating a separate control box plus four powerful directional speakers (each with 30 meters of wire) to offer the greatest all-around flexibility. These systems are highly effective against roosting and perching birds. However you must ensure that all food sources are removed and any nest sites are removed before installing the system for it to be completely effective.”
The following description of the Mark V ‘Wailer’ is taken from the ‘scaringbirds.com’ website:
“The Wailer Mark V is the state of the art electronic bird deterrent which creates a disturbing impression of sweeping movement by switching different combinations of sounds from speaker to speaker sequentially in pairs through a 360° arc at varying speeds, thus preventing birds and other species such as deer and foxes getting any familiarity to any pattern. The unit comprises an electronic box mounted with a combination of ultrasonic and audio speakers and is powered by a standard 12 volt battery. It is controlled by an external plug-in hand-held programmer which can serve any number of master units with accuracy to the nearest second and which determines:
- Choice of 95 constantly changing different sounds
- Duration of blast
- Interval between blasts
- The individual speaker blast time which determines whether the sounds have a "rat-tat-tat" or long "boom" effect
- Separate day and night selection
- Choice of light sensor or clock control which can be particularly useful with early dawn in summer
- Protects up to 30 acres with minimal running costs on a 12 volt battery
- Suitable for both general agricultural use and in adverse conditions such as marine sites and aquaculture or tropical climates
- Sensitive controls make it also ideal for use near built up areas
- Standard unit is equipped with waterproof connectors for the attachment of optional slave twin speaker units which not only extend the range, but also give greater focus of protection for intensive use such as horticulture, viticulture, fish-farming or on factory roof tops or along airport runways
- Optional powerful flashing strobe light for extra deterrence to pigeons, herons, foxes etc.
- Optional vertical mounting plate for fixing to posts or acting as a tripod
Sonic bird scaring systems that utilise a combination of sonic, ultrasonic and bio-acoustic sounds offer the user a variety of different control techniques together in one unit. Although there is doubt as to whether ultrasonic sound has any effect on birds at all, the combination of sonic sounds together with predator calls and distress calls appear to be effective up to a point. As with all scaring products it is unlikely that sonic devices can be used to any effect as a stand-alone scarer, but combined with other deterrents and anti-perching products the sonic system has a place in the bird control sector.
Although budget units are available for domestic use it is unlikely that these single-speaker, single-function devices will be very effective. The main reason that the high-end multi-function units have some degree of success is due to the enhanced electronics required for this functionality combined with the variety of scaring options available. This suggests that sonic units are really the preserve of the commercial user with a large site to protect rather than the individual domestic user requiring a ‘quick-fix’ solution. The cost of the multi-function units would generally be beyond the means of the average domestic user.
Suppliers of sonic scarers suggest that the product can be used in virtually every urban situation and for the control of most species of bird. Due to issues with human disturbance, however, and the fact that some of the more commonly controlled species such as the feral pigeon do not have a distress call, the product may not be quite as versatile as is suggested by suppliers. For agricultural applications or for use on landfill sites the sonic scarer has a role to play as part of an overall control programme, but for the urban domestic user alternative controls may be more appropriate and effective.
For use in urban areas of low human habitation, such as industrial sites or for the control of roosting pigeons under railway and road bridges, the sonic scarer might be considered to be appropriate due to the fact that the noise element of the device would be less invasive. The main problem associated with the device in this application would be its ability to deter the target species. A number of branded sonic and ultrasonic scarers are recommended for use with pigeons and yet the commonly held view amongst experts is that the feral pigeon will be undeterred by any type of noise generating device, however unpleasant the sound may be to human ears. The volume of noise generated by a train passing over a railway bridge is very considerable indeed, particularly when directly under the rail deck. Pigeons roost and breed in these environments in huge numbers, undeterred by the extreme noise, and therefore there is inevitable doubt as to how any sonic device could permanently deter pigeons in this type of application. Furthermore, feral pigeons do not have a distress call so the bio-acoustic element of any multi-function unit will also be ineffective.
One British company produces a bio-acoustic hand-held device specifically designed to be used as a pigeon deterrent, costing over £600.00, and yet the device has been found to be completely ineffective for the control of pigeons. One luxury hotel in India purchased two of these units to deter approximately 2000 pigeons from roosting on the hotel buildings but after several weeks of use the hotel management ceased using the products due to total ineffectiveness and went back to employing a man to run around the site waving a red flag as this was deemed to be a more effective deterrent.
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 wailer, sonic scarers, ultrasound bird scarers, quadblaster, wailer, silent bird scarer, electronic bird scarer, maxi wailer, midi wailer, broadband pro, billboard pro, ultrasonic scarers, sonic deterrents, ultrasound deterrents, bird xpeller pro, super bird xpeller pro, distress call system, sonic distress system
Relevance to pigeon control:
Sonic systems are used to scare a wide variety of birds, predominantly in the agricultural sector, but the product is also commonly marketed as a pigeon-scaring device