Strobe Lights

Bird X Strobe Light

Bird X Strobe Light

Strobe lights are not commonly associated with bird control but manufacturers and suppliers often recommend the installation of strobe lights as a complementary control particularly for indoor areas where overnight roosting is the issue. Strobe lights are also available with a high-frequency sonic device in a single unit providing both sonic and visual disturbance to roosting birds. According to manufacturers’ claims strobe lights can be an effective bird control product with a wide variety of birds including pigeons, swallows, starlings, crows, waterfowl and blackbirds making the product extremely versatile.

The main application for the use of strobe lights would be warehouses, the undersides of bridges or roof voids where light is restricted or where the area is in complete darkness. In these environments the pulsing light will have the most disorientating effect on the target species. If a strobe light is combined with a noise-generating device or an ultrasonic device the effect will be even more disturbing for roosting birds. Based on the environments in which the strobe light will be most effective, it is the feral pigeon that the device will be most commonly used to deter. A conventional stand-alone strobe light unit designed for bird control usage will typically cover an area of up to 10,000 square feet sending out intense white, red and blue light at 75 flashes per minute. The 1 million-candlepower light pulses provided at these frequencies will be intolerable to most species of birds disorientating them and resulting in an immediate desire to escape the area, according to one manufacturer of the product. Most strobe lights will be provided with a timing device to reduce the potential for habituation. If a strobe light is constantly powered the target species will almost certainly habituate to it.

Martley Strobe Bird Scarer

Martley Strobe
Bird Scarer

Strobe lights are either powered by mains electricity (AC), by direct current (DC) or by solar power. The disadvantage of an AC power source is the obvious requirement of power on-site and the need to hard-wire the unit. Once installed, however, the unit will be extremely inexpensive to run and virtually maintenance-free. Using a DC power source will ensure that the unit can be used in virtually every application but the disadvantage of a DC power source is the need to charge the unit regularly, requiring human interaction. One UK-based company, Martley Electronics, offers a well designed unit powered by DC and with a solar panel option. The benefit of this product is that the solar panel will continue to top-up the battery during daylight hours (even on a cloudy day) requiring less battery charging. The unit is supplied with an AC adaptor so that it can be run from AC power if required. This unit combines a switchable strobe light with a high frequency audible scaring device. One American-made unit, combining a xenon strobe with ultrasonic and audible sounds, has a battery life of 3-6 months running on 4 ‘D’ batteries, representing an extremely low-maintenance option.

As birds perceive the world in a completely different way to human beings, with sight being the dominant sense and determining behaviour as a result, when a pulsing light is provided in an area previously devoid of light the instinct will be to escape. Research has shown that when a flashing light is used with a uniform flashing frequency birds will quickly habituate to the visual disturbance. If, however, a flashing light is used with an increasing frequency the bird will perceive the light as it would perceive an approaching predator and its response would be to escape using the quickest route. This is an instinctive reaction in the bird. Following extensive trials it was found that an increase in the flashing frequency in the range of 0.1 Hz to 3.0 Hz was the most effective. Even after long-term use, pulsing light provided in this frequency range still induces a strong reaction in birds.

Yard Control Ultimate Strobe

Yard Control
Ultimate Strobe

In one research programme strobe lights were found to be extremely effective in respect of deterring pigeons (although it is possible that these were woodpigeon) and there appeared to be no habituation to the strobe. In another research programme, however, it was found that when a strobe light was used to deter sparrows from feeding within the interiors of buildings, the device was ineffective. It must therefore be deduced that the strobe light is not only species-specific but also context-specific.

The greatest disadvantage of the strobe light as a bird control device is the fact that the strobe will be ineffective in daylight. The main application for the device, therefore, would be for use as a roost inhibitor. Although the strobe light can be used on a 24/7 basis in low-light environments, if used in a workplace such as a factory unit the constant flashing may not only disturb human workers but it also has the potential to cause serious health-related problems for those within sight of the device. Although in some cases strobe lights will only cause minor visual disturbance there is the potential for strobe lights to cause photosensitive epilepsy in some individuals. The British Health and Safety Executive recommend that a net flash rate for a bank of strobe lights does not exceed 5 flashes per second at which only 5% of photosensitive epileptics are at risk. It also recommends that no strobing effect should continue for more than 30 seconds due to the potential for discomfort and disorientation. As a result strobe lights should be factory-limited to flash at no more than 10-12 flashes per second. This could, however, still be a problem if people are operating machinery. The British-made unit has a switchable strobe light which would resolve these potential problems. Another disadvantage of the strobe light is that it cannot be used externally in an urban residential environment due to the inevitable nuisance caused to residents.

As the strobe light is designed primarily for bird control as a roost inhibitor there are obvious concerns over its use to deter non-nocturnal birds such as pigeons. Pigeons will not fly in complete darkness and therefore if the device is used at night to deter pigeons from their roosts in a building, the strobe light cannot be effective. For the unit to have any effect on deterring roosting pigeons it would need to be used approximately 1-2 hours before total darkness fell, this being the period when pigeons normally migrate back to their overnight roosts. It is unlikely that the strobe will have low enough light conditions to be effective during these periods. Similarly, as a result of the fact that pigeons breed all-year round (and because all birds are far harder to deter from their roosting/breeding sites when they have dependent young) any bird control deterrent provided in an overnight roosting/breeding environment would have to be extremely effective in order to force birds to desert both their young and their roost. As with a majority of visual scaring devices, strobe lights will need to be provided in conjunction with other bird control deterrents and anti-perching devices to have any effect on the target species. The strobe light cannot be seen as a stand-alone scaring device.

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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.

“Flashing, rotating, strobe and searchlights are a novel stimulus to birds, which encourage an avoidance response (Harris and Davis 1998). Although a steady light source such as searchlights have been known to attract birds at night, particularly when it is cloudy or foggy (Harris and Davis 1998), strobe lights, revolving lights and amber barricade lights might be useful for deterring night-feeding birds such as herons at fisheries (Littauer 1990; Nomsen 1989 cited in Kevan 1992). The lights have a blinding effect which causes the birds to become confused and restricts their ability to fish (Salmon et al. 1986, cited in Kevan 1992). However, birds can quickly become habituated and black-crowned herons (Nycticorax nycticor) have been known to avoid the glare by landing with their backs to the lights (Kevan 1992).”

“Lawrence et al. (1975, cited in Harris and Davis 1998) reviewed strobe lights particularly in relation to their use on airfields, and concluded that strobe lights had some deterrent effect though they were more effective at deterring lapwings than gulls. Pilo et al. (1988) showed that birds such as kites, vultures and pigeons were affected by a high intensity strobe light, which could encourage them to take evasive action and move away. They also showed no habituation. Green and Bahr (1993) recommended a randomised selection of at least two strobe frequencies in order to deter a broader range of bird species. However, Theale (personal communication, cited in Feare 1985) investigated the use of strobe lights to drive house sparrows from the interior of buildings. In an experimental situation, such lights failed to disturb the birds feeding activities.”

“Numbers of night-feeding black-crowned night-herons and great blue herons at a trout hatchery were reduced by the use of bright rotation lights, but only by moving them a short distance to an unlit part of the hatchery. However, they caught fish just as effectively in both lit and unlit sections, so the lights had no effect on fish losses (Andelt et al. 1997). A floating solar-powered rotating beacon was successful in reducing the number of ducks visiting a sewerage pond by 90% (Read 1999). The device was most effective when rotating slowly and operated only during the night. Although lights are easy to deploy and require very little maintenance, they should not be used where they might cause a visual nuisance to neighbouring properties. They may not be effective during daylight hours and their ability to scare birds at night varies with the bird species. Lights are best used with other deterrent methods.”

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Price range:

The Martley unit that combines an intermittent strobe light with a high frequency sonic device is available in the UK for £179.95 inc VAT. The portable solar panel battery charger is available for £69.95 inc VAT.

One US-based company is marketing their ‘Multi-Colour Stroboscopic Bird Repeller’ for $210.00. Another unit only available in the USA is the ‘Yard Contro Ultimate Repeller’ combining a strobe light with a high-frequency noise device. This unit is available for $89.00

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User reviews:

To date we have been unable to find any user reviews for Strobe Lights 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 Strobe Lights please contact the Pigeon Control Resource Centre.

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Comments from the Manufacturer/Distributor:

One US supplier of stand-alone strobe lights said the following of its product:

“For best results, use Bird Strobe Light in conjunction with one or more other products. The combination of different types of control methods has proven to maximize the effectiveness of bird control programs. Use your Bird Strobe Light when birds are most likely to roost- when the lighting level is low in the evening.”

“Mount the Bird Strobe Light to offer maximum illumination of roosting and nesting areas used by the birds. Avoid mounting the light close to structural members (beams, rafters, etc.) that will shield the birds from the light pulses. When using multiple lights, stagger them when mounted, to provide multiple sight lines.”

“Birds tend to roost on the same general level in a given enclosure. Therefore, position the Bird Strobe Light level to or slightly higher than the birds’ level whenever possible. This further reduces the possibility of the bird being sheltered from the Bird Strobe Light. Also see the above positioning rule to achieve maximum illumination.”

“The Bird Strobe Light’s coverage area is circular. The effective range diminishes with increased ambient light. Under optimum conditions (a dark or very dimly-lit building with ambient light of 10 foot candles or less) the Bird Strobe Light will provide approximately 10,000 square feet of coverage. This coverage represents a circular area with a radius of approximately 55 feet.”

Another US supplier of a strobe light combined with a high frequency sonic scarer said the following of its product:

“A versatile, adjustable repeller to keep out a wide range of interlopers. The all-weather Yard Contro™ uses a sophisticated motion detector to detect approaching animals within a 30-foot diameter circle and unleashes a burst of ultrasound, or audible sound if desired, and a startling, pulsing strobe light each time new motion is detected.”

“The unit's sound frequency can be set anywhere from an audible low of 8000 Hz or cycles. (Can be used to provide an audible intruder alarm) to a high of 50,000Hz or cycles. (inaudible ultrasound useful for repelling rats and mice). The motion detector's range can also be adjusted from high (for a thirty-foot circle) to LOW (for a smaller circle) and to any intermediate setting. Each unit comes with a built-in test mode button. This unit also works onbirds !”

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Editorial comments:

Strobe lights are an interesting bird scaring product that will almost certainly need to be used in conjunction with other deterrents and/or anti-roosting products in order to be effective. Views vary considerably as to the effectiveness of strobe lights as a scaring device and as with a majority of visual scaring products, it is clear that the strobe light is species specific. The strobe light appears to be most effective with nocturnal birds but research has shown that the product is also reasonably effective for use with the feral pigeon. Some success has also been achieved with certain species of waterfowl. The product has its main application as a scaring device for use in darkness and as a roost inhibitor. The main drawback in respect of both applications is that the product is likely to be unsuitable for use in urban residential areas. This is particularly the case where a dual unit is used providing both high-frequency sound and strobe lights.

The strobe light is a relatively inexpensive scaring product and as such may be considered to be worth trialling alongside other scaring and anti-roosting products to assess efficiency. It is clear that the product is context-specific as well as being species-specific so there are no guarantees that it will be effective on a particular site simply because the site in question appears to fulfil the necessary criteria. The most expensive unit that we looked at was less than £200.00 and this was a dual unit, so cost of the strobe light relative to other electronic scaring devices is extremely low. The cheapest US-made product, also a dual unit, was $89 (approximately £45.00) and operates for up to 6 months on one set of batteries, making this unit a good low-maintenance, low-cost choice.

Some of the most entrenched pigeon-related problems are found under bridges (road, road/rail, road/river), warehouses and food processing plants. Due to the inaccessibility of roosts in these situations and the huge cost of installing comprehensive anti-perching systems, the strobe light may have a part to play in deterring pigeons from their roosts, providing that it is understood that the strobe is likely to have zero effect once darkness has fallen. This is because pigeons and other urban birds will not fly after dark. For any application where the unit is likely to be used during the daytime (i.e. in dimly lit areas) it is essential to ensure that the unit can be switched off should it cause interference or visual problems for humans working in the area.

The strobe light is inexpensive, simple and quick to install with extremely low running costs (particularly if the solar panel is used) and has the potential to be effective with a wide range of birds. The product is not widely available in the UK, as is the case with many of the more specialist pest control products, but can it be sourced from the USA if a stand-alone strobe light is required rather than a combined sonic and strobe unit. At the time of writing there was no stand-alone strobe light unit available from UK suppliers. For agricultural applications the strobe light has more potential for success as it is in these areas that many of the nocturnal avian pests are a problem. For use beside water the strobe light will be particularly effective as the light beams will be reflected on the water compounding and increasing its effectiveness. Even in light of this, however, research has found that the strobe light is only effective with some, not all species of waterfowl.

Also commonly known as:

Bird lite, bird strobe, pigeon light, yard contro ultimate, bird scarer, pigeon strobe, bird strobe light, bird light

Relevance to pigeon control:

Strobe lights are used to deter a wide variety of birds but would only be used for the control of pigeons as a complementary control option and not as a stand-alone deterrent

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