Efficacy of a radar-activated on-demand system for deterring waterfowl from oil sands tailings ponds


Robert A. Ronconi, Department of Biology, University of Victoria, PO Box 3020, Stn CSC, Victoria, BC, Canada V8W 3 N5 (fax +250 721 7120; e-mail rronconi@uvic.ca).


  • 1Oil sands mining is one of several industrial activities that produces effluent that is dangerous to waterfowl. Such industries require effective systems to deter birds, but current deterrents are not always successful, presumably because wildlife ignore or habituate to them.
  • 2We tested a new radar-activated on-demand system of deterrence in the oil sands region of Alberta, Canada, by comparing the proportion of birds that landed on a tailings pond while it was activated with the proportion that landed during two other treatments: a continuous, randomly activated, deterrent system, and control periods with no deterrents. We also assessed the efficacy of different stimuli types within the on-demand system.
  • 3Across several bird guilds, only the on-demand deterrent system significantly reduced the probability of birds landing in comparison with the control treatment. In addition to treatment effects, birds were more likely to land earlier in the spring and when they flew at lower altitudes, and shorebirds were more likely to land than ducks, geese and gulls.
  • 4The comparison of stimuli revealed that cannons elicited significantly more response by birds in flight than mechanized peregrine falcon effigies with speakers broadcasting peregrine sounds.
  • 5Synthesis and applications. Our results promote the use of on-demand systems for waterfowl deterrence at tailings ponds and recommend cannons over effigies as stimuli. We suggest that oil sands deterrence efforts should (i) be operational in the early spring, when tailings ponds appear to be most attractive to migrating waterfowl, (ii) target low-flying waterfowl and shorebirds and (iii) be effective during both day and night. These results and recommendations have potential application for problems of bird deterrence at several other industrial sites.