Thursday, July 28, 2011

When Animals Attack— Plastic

Ever wonder if those plastic owls that are supposed to scare birds away from buildings actually work?

Chunk and I saw a test of this Batesian mimicry strategy on an evening walk this week.
The Cooper's Hawk on the fence (just left of the small tree in the photo) screams at the plastic owl, attached to the fence near the gate (right of the tree). The apathetic owl does not respond. The hawk screams again, from the fence and then from above in a large oak. The owl, unflappable as always, is silent. 
Enraged, the hawk attacks! At this point, Chunk wants a piece of the action, and yanks the leash so hard, my camera sails into the street—note the blurry photo. With the dog barking hysterically and me running after the camera, the hawk flip-flops away. Serene on his throne, the plastic owl remains.

The next morning I had breakfast out on the patio with my camera (it survived the crash). I noticed a flurry of bird calls. The crows were crowing, the jays were jaying, and the grackles were grackling. And no wonder! A Cooper's Hawk—perhaps the same one—was perched on the girder of the nearby water tower. 

The crows gave him the same treatment he had given the owl the evening before, but Cooper's was not so cool-headed.
He dashed away after his tormentors, but they had a pretty good lead. The neighborhood was quiet again.

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  1. That's a bit of fortunate timing! (Unless the hawk buzzes the fake owl all day long)

    I think the day is full of interesting wildlife moments like this, but we usually aren't around to see them.

  2. Some years back I was in California for a wedding. I stopped at a bank on Tuesday to get some cash, and noticed the newly emplaced plastic owls. The other birds seemed afraid of them. When I returned the following Friday, sparrows were nesting in the plastic owls.

  3. @Alan: You're right about the surprises we usually don't get to see. I usually carry my little point-and-shoot camera and consider myself lucky if I can get a blurry photo of the action.

    @SteveK: Interesting story about the California subspecies of the plastic owl! I think the Cooper's Hawk has gotten desensitized to this one too because I haven't seen him again.

  4. That is so funny. I've wondered if those plastic owls work to scare off smaller birds.

  5. hi Nicole! I believe the Cooper's Hawk has a nest in the area, and Great Horned Owls are probably the top bird predator in our area--that non-plastic ones, that is. Good tip about the camera, I need a strap.

  6. Hi Anonymous! I think they do work, at least for a few days.