If a bird ever dared to land on Andrew Craigie’s crop in Latrobe, Tasmania, his trusty dog Sue would spring into action and “chase the critters away”.
- A new laser bird-deterrent device is being trialled to protecting paddock from bird damage
- BirdLife Australia says an advantage of the technology is it is ‘more humane’ than other deterrent methods
- Birds cause $300 million of damage to crops across Australia annually
But that all changed after a peculiar, rotating contraption appeared in one of his paddocks.
“Of late, Sue has become unemployed because there’s no critters left,” Mr Craigie said.
The device that put the farm dog out of a job is a sweeping, green laser system known as the Bird Beam.
The bird-deterrent technology has been a godsend for Mr Craigie, who lost an entire hectare of crop to birds last May.
“I’ve tried other, cheaper lights and other sonic gear but nothing that works as well as this one,” he said.
“The day we planted the canola, there were 20, 25 skylarks that arrived on the scene instantly.
‘Lightsabre’ in the paddock
Serve-Ag has been trialling the laser technology in one of Mr Craigie’s paddocks for the past few months to help the technology break into the Tasmanian market.
Bird Beam owner Michelle Kerr said it was already being used interstate and in 90 different countries.
“It’s been taken up by huge vineyards and orchards from Chile to California,” she said.
The device looks like a CCTV camera mounted on a pole or shed and can be programmed to “patrol” a clearly defined area day or night.
When the system is in action, humans just see a green dot moving along the ground, but Ms Kerr said birds see something quite different because of their “intense ocular system”.
“They see the whole beam and they see it sweeping across the paddock or the crop that you’re trying to protect from point to point.
“Because they think it’s a really large stick coming towards them, they flee the area.”
Ms Kerr said bird problems were worth approximately $300 million a year in Australia across sectors including agriculture, aviation and logistics.
She said the device was an effective and more humane way to control birds, especially compared to other methods such as “shotguns”.
“The birds look up and see it and fly away,” Ms Kerr said.
“It just does its thing.
Striking a balance
Ensuring bird control methods are humane and have a limited negative impact on target and non-target species is an area of concern for Birdlife Australia.
Key biodiversity area program leader Golo Maurer said the situation could be difficult when birds viewed as “pests” were also endangered, such as the Baudin’s black cockatoo in Western Australia.
“So, management of that in a responsible way is something that would be very much our core business — to make sure that people and birds are served well,” he said.
Dr Maurer said the big advantage of laser bird-deterrent technology was that it discouraged birds without killing them.
But he also understood how much of an issue birds could be for farmers.
“If it’s really creating severe psychological stress, no one wants to see that.
“At the same time, shooting a species that’s already declining rapidly is not a great option either.”
Dr Maurer said he was broadly supportive of lasers over other “lethal” control measures.
But he believed more research should be done to ensure lasers were not harming birds in other ways.
“You’d like to try to avoid that and I think there’s still some research to be done to ensure that it’s really harmless on that front.”
Future potential for laser technology
Ms Kerr said the other area that “could probably use further research” was whether the laser technology could deter other animals, such as rabbits, kangaroos “and the odd possum”.
“Because it’s manufactured in the Netherlands, they don’t have kangaroos, possums or rabbits so they haven’t been able to do the trials,” she said.
“But here in Australia, yes, there is a possible link between the effectiveness of the laser and the critters and the wildlife.
“There is some very interesting and positive feedback. We probably just need to do a few more trials.”
In the meantime, Mr Craigie is happy the device has removed “99.99 per cent” of birds in his canola crop.
And, as an “added bonus”, the laser during rainstorms provides “the best light show you’re ever going to see”.
“I’d really like them to bring out a red and gold one for me so I can put it up a tree and I’ll have the best Christmas tree in Australia,” he said.