Hawks to scare off Orchard Road pests

Birds of prey to put 'nuisance' mynahs and starlings to flight
Jessica Lim Straits Times 12 Oct 11;

HIGH-PITCHED sounds did not work and chemicals were deemed inhumane. Now, trained hawks could be the answer to controlling the numbers of mynahs and starlings in the Orchard Road area.

The plan to use these birds of prey to frighten away smaller birds was initiated by the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba), made up of about 60 businesses in Singapore's premier shopping belt. It is working with Wildlife Reserves Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board on the idea.

Birds have been a nuisance to retailers and shoppers since 2008, after the Somerset carpark was redeveloped and trees at the site removed. They used to roost there but have moved to the area near Orchard Cineleisure and The Heeren.

Chairman of the South-east Asian Biodiversity Society Yong Ding Li estimates that 2,000 to 5,000 birds roost in the Orchard Road area at dusk. The peak congregation time is between 6.45pm and 7pm.

People have complained about the noise the birds make and the droppings they leave on cars, pedestrian walkways and even shoppers' heads.

Orba executive director Steven Goh said it was approached by the managements of malls such as The Heeren, Mandarin Gallery, 313@Somerset and Paragon about the problem.

Bird training and the acclimatisation of hawks to urban areas is under way. The plan, he said, is to release the hawks in the area for short periods of time to chase away the problem before they go back to their handlers.

'The idea is to scare the birds away. At the end of the day, we want the pleasant shopping experience to return to Orchard Road,' said Mr Goh, adding that malls like The Heeren tried to project high-pitched sounds as a scare tactic a few weeks ago.

'That didn't work,' he said, adding that Orba had also discussed using chemicals but found it too inhumane. It chose the hawk option after meeting bird experts from pest-control firms.

Mr Goh said there was a 'high chance' the project would take flight, noting that a lot of time and effort had been invested since Orba initiated the idea four months ago. Details like the start-date and number of hawks are being discussed.

In Britain, two hawks, accompanied by their handlers, successfully drove seagulls away from a mall in Exeter in 2009. They made four flights a week in the area over a 20-week period.

Farmers worldwide have also used full-sized replicas of hawks to scare birds away from crops.

The chairman of the South-east Asian Biodiversity Society, Mr Yong Ding Li, attributes the increase in the number of mynahs and starlings in the Orchard Road area to a drop in the number of crows. These birds were creating havoc before the authorities tackled the problem islandwide.

He added that the kind of hawk used will probably be the Goshawk, Sparrowhawk or Falcon - species that eat other birds and are easier to handle. Fewer than 10 are likely to be used due to their limited numbers, he said.

Although they would be effective in scaring the smaller birds away, he said it would likely be a short-term solution. 'The smaller birds will just go somewhere else, so it's shifting the problem,' he said, adding that the hawks would not be able to control a large bird population.

Nonetheless, tenants in the area are hopeful that the move will help.

Mr Ryan De Guzman, 30, who works at a food stall at *Scape Youth Park, said that when a customer gets up to order something, the birds swoop down on his unattended food almost immediately.

But some, like property investor Tommy Chow, 35, worry that the hawks themselves could pose a problem, asking: 'What if they start attacking humans?'

Experts, however, say such incidents are rare.

Additional reporting by Stacey Chia