Laser hazer keeps birds at bay in orchards

A solar-powered bird laser hazer on the hillside above an Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers' orchard. One laser can protect 40 to 50 acres or more from bird-peck fruit damage.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Noise makers, tinsel-like ribbons shimmering from trees, large balloon-like scarecrows — all have been used to scare birds from tree fruit orchards in the Pacific Northwest.

While propane cannons and bird squawkers can be effective they’re also bothersome to neighbors’ ears, so Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, of Wenatchee, has turned to a totally quiet laser hazer.

Manufactured by Bird Control Group, a European company, the solar-powered laser, mounted high on a pole above the center of an orchard, swivels and “shoots” softball-size green dots of light in darting patterns down through tree canopies, keeping birds away but not harming them.

A single laser can cover 40 to 50 acres and even more when optimally located, says Jeff Cleveringa, director of research and development at Oneonta Starr Ranch.

The company began using a laser at its Bear Mountain Orchard at Lake Chelan a year ago.

“Birds had been a real problem in that orchard. There were lot of roosting areas at neighbors’ and in the forest,” Cleveringa said. “Cherries and Honeycrisp (apples) had lots of damage.”

Birds gathered en masse on a powerline stretching above the Honeycrisp block and descended to peck apples, he said. When the laser was employed, there were no more birds on the powerline, the orchard manager reported.

“Pecks were very, very few. It looked really impressive, but we thought maybe it was just not a bad bird year for other reasons,” Cleveringa said.

The company bought another laser this year — they cost about $10,000 apiece — and used one in the same orchard and the other in its Quincy orchards, with good results.

There’s no smart phone or blue tooth capabilities, so you have to manually connect a laptop computer to the laser to set patterns and run times, Cleveringa said.

“We run it continually in mornings and evenings, but not during the day because it’s warm then and birds aren’t too active,” he said.

Mid-day downtime allows solar panels to recharge the batteries.

Cleveringa said he’s not aware of many growers in Washington using the lasers but that a couple cherry growers in British Columbia do, as do blueberry growers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Bird Control Group’s U.S. office is in Lake Oswego, Ore.

Cleveringa is optimistic about the laser.

“I would say yes, it is worth it and I have a feeling we will invest in more in future years,” he said. “We like what we’ve seen so far.”

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