Dispersing BirdsBird dispersal techniques and Operations

Thurman W. Booth
State Director
USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201

Additional Bird Control Information

Bird Dispersal Operations

Again, the keys to successful bird dispersal are timing, persistence, organization, and diversity. The timing of a frightening program is critical. Birds are much more apt to leave a roost site that they have occupied for a brief period of time than one that they have used for many nights. Prompt action greatly reduces the time and effort required to successfully relocate the birds. As restlessness associated with migration increases, birds will become more responsive to frightening devices and less effort is required to move them. When migration is imminent, the birds’ natural instincts will augment dispersal activities.

Whether dealing with rural or urban concentrations, someone should be in charge of the entire operation and carefully organize all dispersal activities. The more diverse the techniques and mobility of the operation, the more effective it will be. Once initiated, the program must be continued each day until success is achieved. The recommended procedure for dealing with an urban blackbird/starling roost is given below. Many of these principles apply to other bird problems as well.

Urban Roost Relocation Procedure

Willing and effective cooperation among numerous agencies, organizations, and individuals is necessary to undertake a successful bird frightening program in an urban area. Different levels of government have different legal responsibilities for this work. The best approach is a cooperative effort with the most knowledgeable and interested individual coordinating the program.

Public relations efforts should precede an urban bird-frightening effort. Federal, state, and/or local officials should explain to the public the reasons for attempting to relocate the birds. Announcements should continue during the operation and a final report should be made through mass media. These public relations efforts will facilitate public understanding and support of the program. They will also provide an opportunity to solicit citizen involvement. This help will be needed when the birds scatter all over town after one or two nights of frightening. Traffic control in the vicinity of the roost is essential. Consequently, police involvement and that of other city officials is necessary.

The public should be informed that the birds may move to a site that is less suitable than the one they left and that, if disturbed in the new roost site, they are likely to return to the original site. Sometimes it is wise to provide protection for a new, acceptable roost site once it has been selected by the birds. One can predict with some certainty that blackbirds and starlings will move to one of their primary staging areas if that area contains sufficient roosting habitat. Fortunately, if the birds occupy roost sites where they still create problems, a continuation of the frightening program can more easily cause them to move to yet another site. With each successive move, the birds become more and more responsive to the frightening devices. Habituation is uncommon in properly conducted programs, especially if sufficient diversity of techniques and mobility of equipment is maintained.

Birds are much easier to frighten while they are flying. Once they have perched, a measure of security is provided by the protective vegetation and they become more difficult to frighten. Dispersal activities should end when birds stop moving after sunset. A continuation of frightening will only condition birds to the sounds and reduce responses in the future. With black-bird/starling roosts, all equipment and personnel should be prepared to begin frightening at least 1 1/2 hours before dark. The frightening program should commence as soon as the first birds are viewed. Early morning frightening is also effective. This requires only about 1/2 hour and should begin when the first bird movement occurs within the roost, which may be prior to daylight. This movement precedes normal roost exodus time by about 1/2 hour.

On the first night of a bird-roost frightening program, routes for mobile units should be planned and shooters of exploding shells should be placed so as to build a wall of sound around the roost site and saturate the roost with sound. Shooters should be cautioned to ration their ammunition so that they do not run out before dark. The response of the birds is predictable. As flight lines attempt to enter the roost site in late afternoon, they will be repelled by the frightening effort. A wall of birds about 1/4 mile (0.4 km) from the roost site will mill and circle almost until dark. At that time, virtually all of the birds will come into the roost site, no matter what frightening methods are employed.

The immediate response of onlookers is also predictable. Pulling for the underdog (or in this case the “underbird”), they will cheer for the birds and assume that the program has been unsuccessful. This is wholesome community recreation. When the birds are finally gone, however, these same onlookers will be convinced that frightening devices are, in fact, effective in moving birds.

By the second and third nights of the frightening program, flexibility will be necessary in adapting dispersal techniques to the birds’ behavior. As larger numbers of birds are repelled from the original roost site, they will attempt to establish numerous temporary roosts. Mobile units armed with pyrotechnics and broadcast alarm and distress calls should be prepared to move to these areas, disturb the birds, and send them out of town. Frightening efforts by residents should be encouraged through mass media. Efforts must continue each morning and evening in spite of weather conditions. Complete success is usually achieved by the fourth or fifth night.

A bird-frightening program can be used to deal with an immediate bird problem, but it can also be an educational tool that prepares individuals or municipalities to deal with future problems in an effective manner. Those interested in resolving the problem should bear part of the financial burden of the bird-frightening program. This requirement will immediately eliminate imagined bird problems. When a city or individual is willing to pay a part of the bill for a bird-frightening operation, it is obvious that a genuine problem exists.


Large concentrations of birds sometimes conflict with human interests. Birds can be dispersed by means of habitat manipulation or various auditory and visual frightening devices. The keys to effective bird dispersal programs are timing, persistence, organization, and diversity. The proper use of frightening devices can effectively deal with potential health and/or safety hazards, depredation, and other nuisances caused by birds.


Scott E. Hygnstrom; Robert M. Timm; Gary E. Larson

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Cooperative Extension Division Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska -Lincoln

United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Animal Damage Control

Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee


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