Red Deer’s bird cannons aim to protect

Recurring booms heard in river valley are effort to keep birds away from wastewater ponds

Random booms echoing through Red Deer’s river valley are a ploy to keep geese and other waterfowl from getting comfortable on the city’s wastewater lagoons.

Introduced about seven months ago, the bird cannon — or officially, wildlife deterrent — emits a loud sound that has been effective in scaring off birds attracted to the lagoons.

While paddling around a wastewater lagoon may seem unpleasant, the open water on the west side of the river, not far from River Bend Golf and Recreation Area, has its appeal for our feathered friends — especially when it’s winter and open water is hard to come by.

But even in warmer months, the wastewater treatment cells are enticing nest-building sites.

Red Deer environmental services manager Tim Ainscough said about a year ago, the city called in wildlife biologists to get some advice on how best to deal with the birds.

“There’s lots of water at our facility. And our water is warmer than the river is, so the birds like to play in our water.”

Clarifying ponds, settling ponds and equalization ponds (which are used to hold overflow after heavy rains) are irresistible to many of the area’s natural residents, including geese, ospreys and ducks.

Unfortunately, when waterfowl alight on the clarifying ponds, the soothing warmth often puts them to sleep, and the rotating arm that churns the pond can give them a rude awakening — or in worst-case scenarios, put them permanently to sleep.

“There’s the potential for fatalities and injuries to birds, which we don’t want to see.”

Many overhead power lines on the site have also been buried because unwitting birds were getting zapped.

The wastewater itself, which is partway through the treatment process, seems to have no ill health effect on the birds, biologists have confirmed.

This spring, the city has tackled a big project to re-line its equalization ponds. But those have proved popular nesting spots, which are not to be disturbed under wildlife regulations.

“We’ve had a significant number of nests,” said Ainscough.

To tackle both those issues, the city has gone to the experts and put in place a number of deterrents, including a sound system that pumps out the calls of predators such as eagles or hawks. Glittering tape has also been used to scare them off.

“There’s lots of differing things. The cannon is the one most noticeable to people off the site,” he said.

At River Bend Golf and Recreation Area, the cannon can be heard a few times an hour. The pattern is random, so wily birds don’t catch on.

It only operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to stay well within the city’s noise nuisance rules.

While the noise has no doubt sparked more than a few conversations among River Bend visitors, Ainscough said he has not fielded any questions from curious residents.

The re-lining work will be completed later this year. The city has still to decide whether the cannon will remain.

“It’s working well for the construction we’re doing right now. Once these ponds are constructed, we’ll evaluate what we will do next year.

“But we still need to deal with the birds on the site.”

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