There’s no denying that bangers (aka gas guns) do a great job. You set them and leave them and don’t really have to think much more about the things for weeks on end.
That’s fine, but the public (and local authorities) are getting increasingly impatient with farmers who let bangers go off at night, close to houses or on Sundays.
If you don’t believe us, Google the word birdscarer. Once you’ve got through the manufacturers’ and retailers’ sites, there’s complaint after complaint from the public about anti-social farmers and their bangers.
Tempting though it may be to dismiss such comments as being typical of ignorant townies, they are growing in number and increasingly angry. No surprise, then, that the NFU has recently updated its banger code (see right) and increasingly worries that a few miscreants could bring on a partial or outright ban.
Farmers are caught in a dilemma, though. In some years pigeons may not do too much damage, but in others flock after flock will hammer rape and pea fields until there’s hardly anything left. So doing nothing is not an option.
So what’s the answer? A ban on gas guns would be a disaster akin to depriving an army of its main battle tanks. They provide the first (and many would say best) line of defence for many farmers.
But if your gas gun was made at about the same time as the Morris Minor or is about as reliable as a Met Office long-term forecast, it could be time to chop it in. Units with dodgy photoelectric cells, not to mention those that simply bang away around the clock, aren’t helping the farming cause at all. The current crop of gas guns, on the other hand, are likely to be more reliable and generally have far more sophisticated controls that will allow specific periods to be declared off-limits to bangs.
There is also an increasing range of non-banging equipment that does the job by imitating the birds’ own distress calls or providing a visual deterrent on the ground or in the air.
VIDEO: You can see all these units (apart from the Scarecrow and Quiet Man) in action here. No live animals were killed in the making of this video. Regrettably.
What did we do?
To see what was available, both in terms of gas guns and other pigeon-scaring equipment, we rang a wide range of scarer manufacturers and asked them to send an example of their wares. We then spent two days assembling them and trying them out.
We would have loved to tell you that equipment A was better at scaring off pigeons than Equipment B. But of course we can’t, since setting up a fair and scientifically rigorous experiment with something as irrational as pigeons would take a team of scientists many months.
Instead, we looked at how easy they were to move around, how much looking after they needed and how many you needed to cover a particular acreage of crop. We also assessed their potential to annoy local residents and vulnerability to tampering or theft.
There were a couple (Scarecrow + Foxoff) we didn’t know about at the time of the test, but we’ve included details in the write-up.
If you bought your current gas gun in 1975, you’ll be surprised at the sophisticated controls on the current crop of bangers. All four we tried could be set to vary the number of salvos (ie clusters of bangs) fired in each half hour period and the number of bangs per salvo.
Three of the four units had internal batteries and one also had a solar charger, so there are no 12v batteries to lug around. Once set, gas guns can be left for long periods. However, regular moving boosts their effectiveness, as does alternating them with other devices.
- What is it? Plastic body and barrel. Four clip-on legs give extra height to make the bang travel further. Comes with internal battery but can run off an external 12v one.
- Price: £295
- Settings: Two pushbuttons allow you to navigate a grid of lights to get the right setting. Variable bangs per salvo and salvos per half-hour slot – pretty easy to fathom.
- Ease of moving: 15kg including legs – the joint heaviest weight.
- Tamper-proof? No 12v battery to nick.
- Neighbour friendliness: Dawn delay and pre-dusk shut off avoid anti-social out-of-hours bangs.
- What is it? Plastic body and barrel made from 50% recycled spray containers. Legs can be stowed under machine for transport.
- Price: £295 if you use an external 12v battery or £350 with internal battery and charger.
- Settings: Quickest to get to grips with. Vertical and horizontal scrolling allows you to change the number of salvos per half hour and the number of bangs per salvo.
- Ease of moving: 12kg including legs, so the lightest of the four. Also the physically smallest unit of the four.
- Tamper-proof? No 12v battery to nick.
- Neighbour friendliness: Start and stop times programmable, and can be set to switch off at other neighbour-requested times.
- What is it? Metal body and barrel. No legs but rails keep if off the ground. External 12v battery power only.
- Price: £310
- Settings: Three dials cover the main settings, so ideal if you don’t like LCD displays. Photo electric sensor turns unit on at dawn and off at dusk, with an up-to-five-hour dawn delay. Number of salvos can be set from one to four, number of bangs per salvo can be set from one to four. Interval between salvos can be set, too.
- Ease of moving: 15kg, so joint heaviest, plus 12v battery to move.
- Tamper-proof? External 12v battery can be stolen.
- Neighbour friendliness: Dawn and dusk shut-off but no pre-dusk shut-off facility.
- What is it? Metal body and barrel and longest of the four gas guns. Internal battery and only one with solar charger, so battery charge-ups should be infrequent.
- Price: £340 with separate 12v, £399 with integral battery and solar charger.
- Settings: Clock-based system. Day divided into half-hour slots. Number of salvos can be set from one to three, number of bangs per salvo settable from one to four. Salvos take place randomly within half-hour slot.
- Ease of moving: 14kg so second-lightest.
- Tamper-proof? No external 12v battery to nick.
- Neighbour friendliness: clock-based system means dawn start-up and dusk shut-down settable. Plus some slots could be left silent to appease neighbours.
- What is it? An ATV-towable banger platform with a small wind turbine that means it rotates whenever there’s a breeze. So pigeons never get used to bangs coming from the same direction.
- Price: £390. Optional cover £132.
- Ease of moving: Can be towed by an ATV.
- Tamper proof? An optional cover with solar panel disguises it from birds (and thieves) and keeps the battery charged up.
- What is it? Combined kite and helium-filled balloon that hovers 200ft above the field. The company says that research over the years by both Reading University and the EU suggest aerial deterrents of this type can overcome the thorny problem of habituation – ie pigeons getting used to a deterrent.
- Price: £119. Pack of 10 replacement balloons £80. Helium costs are £69.50 for 10 Midget Widget 14in x 2in cylinders, recommended for someone who has a single Helikite. Larger 3ft x 6in cylinders cost £70.50 each and are designed for those who run several Helikites.
- Ease of moving: Balloon has to be wound in first, then moved – fairly time-consuming, though quite pleasant in a relive-your-childhood sort of way.
- Coverage: up to 25 acres/unit.
- Tamper-proof? Kite-type scarers are vulnerable to being released by bored youths, so fields next to houses might not be ideal.
- Maintenance requirement: Though the helium means the Helikite stays in air for several days, it needs daily checking and gusty winds will increase the wear rate.
- Neighbour friendliness: Who could possibly object to a balloon?
- What is it? The Hawk kite flies 40ft in the air and swoops and dives as the wind catches it. Even if it drops, the next gust of wind will pick it up and push it aloft again. More for livestock yards than broad-acres arable, though probably works equally well in both.
- Price: £99.
- Ease of moving: Pole is telescopic and weight is minimal, so not too bad to shift.
- Tamper-proof? A bit of a tempting target, so choose fields with nice neighbours.
- Maintenance requirement: Would need to take in if high winds, so not quite a set-and-forget option.
- Neighbour-friendliness: Will keep Mr and Mrs Grumpy Retired-Solicitor in the Old Post Office amused for hours
Visual ground deterrents
- What is it? Rotating sphere with predator-style eyes and startled expression, aims to deter pigeons from landing on field.
- Price: £18 each.
- Ease of moving: Easy enough, though could be bulky if several involved.
- Coverage: Nine or so would cover a 25-acre field.
- Tamper-proof? Though potentially easy to nick, their relatively low cost should limit pilferage.
- Maintenance requirement: Low. With a 3ft stake to prevent damage in gales, could stay in place for long periods. Remember to remove stakes if it breaks free.
- Neighbour friendliness? Noise-free. Might give small children nightmares.
- What is it? Traditional-style rotating deterrent with mirror + eyespot sides that reflect the sun. A bit reminiscent of the old Flash Harry
- Price: £59 each or £236 for five.
- Coverage: Five will cover 15 acres.
- Ease of moving: Light and portable.
- Tamper-proof? Cheap and cheerful, so not too likely to be stolen or vandalised.
- Maintenance requirement: minimal.
- Neighbour-friendliness? No noise, so good.
- What is it? Predator eye that spins round. Single or double versions available.
- Price: £105 for five singles, £145 for five doubles.
- Ease of moving: Just lift, move and push in (or hammer in if dry conditions)
- Coverage: Designed to be dotted around to supplement gas gun
- Tamper-proof? Relatively low cost should limit their appeal to local youths.
- Maintenance requirement: Minimal
- Neighbour friendliness? Noise-free and visually therapeutic.
- What is it? Eight contra-rotating shiny stainless steel sails catch sunshine and send out shards of light across the field. The whole unit turns too.
- Price: £320
- Ease of moving: Bulky item weighing 43kg, but each set of four blades can be quickly removed and shifted separately. Still a bit of a works, though. Best option is probably to mount it on a low trailer and tow it about with an ATV.
- Coverage: Up to 25 acres/unit
- Tamper-proof? Heavy and somewhat intimidating when in motion, so should be OK.
- Maintenance requirement: Should be very low. Five wide legs give good stability though extra ballast recommended in exposed areas.
- Neighbour friendliness? Only noise is the whoosh of the sails slicing through the air. Beams of reflected light could glint menacingly off sherry glasses, maybe.
- What is it? Rotating pyramid with three mirror sides that reflect light outwards. P3 version comes with 3m of cable and is designed to sit on a pole; likely to replace existing ground-level version. A rooks ‘n’ crows version replaces two of the clear mirrors with red ones.
- Price: £149
- Ease of moving: Very light, though needs an external 12v car/leisure battery to power it.
- Coverage: One unit covers five acres though some users apparently get a good result with one per 10 acres
- Tamper-proof? Silent running means it should be OK, particularly if on top of a stout pole.
- Maintenance requirement: Good, though battery will need changing periodically
- Neighbour friendliness. About as likely to enrage your neighbours as Classic FM.
- What is it? Fan-powered inflatable orange man rears up in intimidating fashion for 25 seconds at 18 minute intervals. Switchable siren also sounds and light comes on.
- Price: Day unit that switches on at dawn and off at dusk costs £320. Timer version with four on-off periods £395
- Ease of moving: Folds into crate that’s pretty light to carry around. However a 12v battery will need to be lugged too.
- Coverage: One per smaller field.
- Tamper-proof? Could be kidnapped by youths, so maybe best not one to place too close to an iffy housing estate. However battery can be hidden inside base.
- Maintenance requirement: 12v battery will need charging every 14 days. Punctures can be repaired with tape, so potentially long life.
- Neighbour friendliness: Pretty good, since siren is loud but not massively so. Sudden and enthusiastic inflation could alarm nervous spinsters.
- What is it? Very visible plastic man waves his arms about for 10 seconds every 20 minutes (interval adjustable). It’s ideal for using with a gas gun to keep the pigeons guessing, says the maker, and can also be supplemented by a plastic fox that upsets rooks and crows.
- Price? £295 for the Quiet Man, £325 for the quiet man plus fox.
- Ease of moving: Pretty light, though 12v battery needs to be moved too.
- Tamper-proof? Could be tempting for those short of a Christmas gift, so careful siting necessary.
- Maintenance requirement: Battery top-up only.
- Neighbour friendliness: As quiet as an MP when asked about his expenses.
Rockets (sold by Portek and others)
- What is it? Like a November 5 rocket, but without the colourful display. Ideal as an addition to a gas gun that will shake up birds that have become habituated to constant gas gun bangs. Potentially could keep pigeons off for several hours.
- Price: £16 for a box of 10.
- Ease of moving: Very easy.
- Coverage: One per field.
- Tamper-proof? Completely (provided you keep the box somewhere safe).
- Neighbour-friendliness: Only designed to be used infrequently (eg once a day) to be effective, so neighbours shouldn’t get too upset.
Black Cat banger ropes (sold by Portek and others)
- What is it? Old stalwart that gives a useful addition to gas guns. Day rope gives 12 bangs at half hour intervals. Night rope gives 12 bangs after 6hr delay so can be lit at night to start banging at 6am.
- Price: £28 for a box of 12.
- Ease of moving: Very easy.
- Coverage: Best result comes from having two or three around the edge of the field.
- Tamper-proof? Pretty hard to spot.
- Neighbour friendliness: Loud, but sound doesn’t carry as far as gas guns or bangers.
- What is it? Plays recordings of bird distress calls and shots at high volume.
- Settings: Random selection and fully automatic with morning delay. A £229 indoor mains-powered version called the BS6 is aimed at keeping birds out of stock buildings.
- Price: Standard BS40 is £399. BS40V has on-off and switch and volume control for £439.
- Ease of moving: Good, though external 12v battery will have to be moved, too.
- Coverage: 40 acres.
- Tamper-proof? Relatively high value and light to move, so best to keep away from risky areas.
- Maintenance requirement: Low, though battery needs to be kept topped up. Solar charging panel available.
- Neighbour friendliness: Amazingly loud, though bird calls likely to be less alarming than gas gun bangs.
- What is it? Pair of loudspeakers play recordings of bird distress calls at high volume to make life unpleasant for them. This unit is aimed at moving on populations of rooks and starlings attacking crops.
- Settings: Fully automatic, plays randomly from dawn to dusk. Maker suggests moving every two to four days to prevent birds getting used to it.
- Price: 60W model is £890.
- Ease of moving: Pretty light, though needs external 12v car/leisure battery.
- Coverage: One unit will cover any reasonable-sized field.
- Tamper-proof? High value and low weight means best kept away from local housing estate.
- Maintenance requirement: Battery will need charging every so often, but solar charger available.
- Neighbour friendliness: As loud in its own way as a gas gun, so best not to put too near housing.
- What is it? Handheld (and amazingly loud) megaphone-style way of broadcasting bird distress calls to clear out roosts or deter birds from eating (and crapping on) feed in cattle yards and buildings. Four different bird cries included.
- Settings: User decides how often and for how long he wants to use it.
- Price: £580. The company also sells a £35 CD or cassette with rook/starling/gull cries that can be played on your own CD/cassette player.
- Ease of moving? Very portable
- Coverage? Relatively localised
- Tamper-proof? Not likely to be a problem.
- Maintenance requirement: Minimal. Eight C batteries provide power.
- Neighbour friendliness: Not intended for continuous use, so pretty friendly.
Scarecrow (not tested)
- What is it? This is the first farming unit from a company that specialises in keeping airports clear of birds.
- Settings: Choice of bird distress calls.
- Ease of moving: Relatively light, but needs 12v battery.
- Price? £500, extra £300 with 360º capability.
- Coverage? One per 1000m2.
- Tamper-proof? Best to keep out of sight.
- Maintenance requirement: charging battery.
- Neighbour friendliness: Not bad.
Contact the maker
- Astwell 01832 735 300
- CG Engineering 07768 404 672
- Clarratts 01480 476 376
- Foxoff 01953 714 802
- Grainbox 07803 596 660
- KJ products 01652 649 439
- Martley 01905 621 313
- Michael Williams 01223 882 222
- Peaceful Pyramid 01953 604 411
- Portek 01453 882 761
- Scarecrow 01825 766 363
- Techneat 01353 862 044
- Wingaway 01249 890 317
What works for you?
How do you rate your pigeon scaring equipment? Do you have techniques that seem to work well? Do you inform your non-farming neighbours? Let us know by posting a comment on our forums. Click on Talking Tackle, then Pigeon Scarers
|NFU Code of Practice|
The NFU has just updated its Code of Practice on bird scarers. You can find the whole thing on www.nfuonline.com/x5317.xml, but here’s the gist of it”
10 things you can do to keep your non-farming neighbours happy (and stave off any danger of a Noise Abatement Order being served on you)