Refinery convinces starlings to nest elsewhere

Feb. 9, 2005
Birds can often be a nuisance to industrial facilities, but one company was able to find a natural way to convince these pests they'd rather roost elsewhere.

There’s more than one way to urge nuisance birds to hie themselves (and their ever-present droppings) away from industrial facilities. “We use falconry-trained raptors — falcons, eagle-owls and hawks — to trigger their natural, genetically coded, predator-prey fear instinct,” says Jeffrey Diaz, director of Ronin Air Falconry Service (RAFS, “This hunter-hunted instinct is inherent in all birds, wild or domestic.”

In December 2003, Sunoco’s Frankford, Pa., refinery contracted with RAFS to abate some 5,000 to 6,000 starlings that had been a problem every winter for decades. “We drove in from the West Coast during the blizzard in the last week of January 2004,” Diaz says. “We knew the starlings would have to seek a new shelter or freeze, which accelerated our project time.” In two weeks, the flocks were completely abated for the year. “Sunoco was impressed and sent us to a much larger refinery in Haverhill, Ohio, that was plagued with more than 15,000 starlings,” Diaz says. “This clear-out took three weeks and was also very successful.”

RAFS thinks the relocated starlings teach their offspring that the project site is dangerously life-threatening for the following winter’s roost. Eventually, entire generations learn to respect that fear. They also learn that their new winter roost is a sanctuary.

European starlings only live three to four years, so RAFS predicted that about half of the starling population would attempt to return the following winter. The next year at Frankford, less than 2,000 starlings returned, requiring a one-week RAF visit. About 5,000 to 6,000 birds returned to Haverhill, and due to the large area, that project took two weeks.

“At both refineries, far less than half attempted to return,” Diaz says. “This time, we flew with our squadron — two falcons, two eagle-owls and one hawk — in dog crates.”

The falconers clear all kinds of industrial, commercial and military sites, including warehouses and airports. “Upon initial survey, I develop a strategy that best applies the squadron to the individual environment,” Diaz says. The program has been applied successfully to igeons, starlings, crows, grackles, cowbirds, blackbirds, seagulls, cormorants, Canadian geese, English sparrows, horned larks, lennets and feral parrots.