Robot falcon protects airports, Alkmaar Cheese Mkt from birds

Falcon
. A Falcon. Source: Wikimedia/Jürgen Dietrich

Birdwatchers may do a bit of crossing out on their sightings list in the coming years, as a new technology has been developed that chases nuisance birds from airports and fields. Robot falcons and eagles - or Robobirds - which can be manually controlled, can offer new solutions to the excessive nuisance and danger that wild birds pose to the industrial landscape, De Volkskrant reports.

These robots have been developed by Clear Flight Solutions, out of a project from the University of Twente that aimed to solve the problem of there being too many birds in certain areas. The device has been tested at the garbage dump in Twente, which used to be dominated by hundreds of gulls. Now, since the Robobird patrols the area, there are far fewer gulls around.

In 2015, Clear Flight Solutions says that the technology will be tested at airports and farm fields. At Schiphol, for example, thousands of geese have to be caught and gassed every year because they pose a danger for airplanes.

In agrarian areas, scarecrows just don't seem to work anymore. Other solutions that use noise to scare the birds away are also failing. Seagulls plague many cities. In Alkmaar, the cheese market is kept bird-free by devices that send out bird of prey calls.

In Leiden, eggs are collected and removed. In The Hague, the municipality tested the effects of laser beams to keep the birds away. The problem with these solutions is that the birds always come back.

Birds are able to learn from these tricks that they pose no danger, says 27-year-old founder Nico Nijenhuis at Clear Flight Solutions. Nature should offer a more successful solution.

The call of a bird of prey, and its image always means danger. "Birds are genetically programed to be scared of predators. That's how they survived evolution. Our Robobirds don't only look like birds of prey, but behave like them as well. They chase other birds at 80 kilometers per hour, really stay on their asses. They make it very clear: I am the predator, you are the prey."

There is a danger with these birds, ecologically speaking, if they are introduced at a large scale. This could completely interrupt the existing ecosystem, chasing away not only the geese and other nuisance birds but also waterbirds like lapwings or stock doves and sky larks. Piling on the presence of natural predators as well as existing problems like frost and lack of food could chase these birds away permanently.

The Robobirds come in various species, and are also fitted with very modern technology. Van Nijenhuis says that previous technology required a highly trained person to take the controls and keep the bird flying a certain trajectory. The new technology lets the birds fly straight on autopilot. "Now we could press a bird into someone's hands without any previous experience and say: Go ahead, fly."

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