Scarecrows vs. Scaresheep
Sometimes birds can be a nuisance. I don’t care if they’re blackbirds, pigeons, seagulls, starlings or guinea hens.
Starlings have always been a problem for feedlots. They eat a lot of grain, besides desecrating the feed bunks. One particular afternoon when I was having visions of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds, I sent one of the feedlot hands to town to get some replicas of owls. I had read that decoy owls would scare off birds. I left that afternoon before he returned.
The next morning I got a call on the two-way from the boss. He was in a fowl mood (sorry). “What the *(#%@ do ya think this is? Halloween? Do ya think the EPA and the Audubon Society would approve? Are they waterproof? Packing guns? Where did you go to school again?”
“Stanford,” I lied.
I had no idea what he was talking about until I pulled into the feedyard and started down the first alley. Owls were posted on every other pen sign with scotch tape. ’Course you couldn’t tell they were owls from the side, but from the front it was obvious. They were cardboard cutouts of cartoon owls, painted black and orange. Many were surrounded by starlings perched on the cable picking their teeth and gossiping. We tried carbide guns, poisoning, negotiation and bribery, to no avail.
Last fall I was invaded by big, black birds. At night, they roosted in my hay barn, on top of gates, at the water tanks, by the hundreds, all painting my facilities the color of a bat cave.
I tried decoy cow skulls, dogs chained to the gates, fans, chicken wire, rap music, old hides, a stuffed deer, until, in my frustration, I sneaked out at daylight with my 20-gauge and dusted one off. I hung him by his ankles from a horizontal brace post over a gate, 12 feet in the air. The herd of birds departed and have never, not even once, come back.
Six months later, his carcass sways in the breeze as a warning. I have noticed this method doesn’t work for all species, although you’d be surprised. I talked to a sheepherder from Idaho that claimed the scarecrow, or “scaresheep,” method worked on fine-wool Debolliet. He reported that the ewes had located a loose stretch of fenceline and began crawling under. They got onto the road and got run over by traffic.
The sheepherder laid a carcass under the bottom wire to act as an example. None crossed at that space, however they just moved down the fence line about three feet and crawled under, only to be hit by a car.
He finally concluded that the scaresheep method did work, but it just took more decoy sheep: about three furlongs worth, piled two high, in his experience.