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The Potential of Lasers as Deterrents to Protect Birds in the Alberta Oil Sands and Other Areas of Human-Bird Conflict Open Access


Other title
bird deterrent
human-wildlife conflict
oil sands
behavioural ecology
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Cassidy, Ffion Louise
Supervisor and department
Colleen Cassady St. Clair (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Marcia Spetch (Psychology)
Clover Bench (Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science)
William Ted Allison (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Science
Degree level
Human population growth, urbanization, and industrialization are rapidly increasing the potential for human-wildlife conflict throughout the world. Such conflict is often mitigated by attempting to deter wildlife from the affected areas, but wildlife frequently habituate to deterrent devices, which makes them less effective over time. Birds are both susceptible to conflict with people and likely to habituate to deterrents, and this causes ongoing conflict that can threaten the livelihoods of people (e.g., agriculture and aquaculture), the safety of bird populations (e.g., offshore drilling platforms, oil spills, and industrial sites), and also human safety (e.g., aircraft strikes). One such conflict occurs in the oil sands region of northern Alberta, which is located beneath a continental flyway for waterfowl. Because the ponds produced by oil sands mining contain bitumen and other toxic substances, oil sands operators are legally required to prevent birds from landing on them. Efforts are made to deter birds with elaborate systems based mainly on high-intensity acoustic stimuli. In spite of this effort, recent standardized monitoring has revealed that tens of thousands of birds still land on tailings ponds annually. Birds rely heavily on vision and a greater focus on visual deterrents could increase the efficacy of existing deterrent systems, particularly if visual stimuli have high ecological relevance and exploit the sensory systems of birds. Lasers may fill both of these criteria, and also have the advantage of being visible at night when most birds migrate. Several authors have advocated use of lasers as bird deterrents, but there are few published tests of their efficacy on wild birds and none are based in an ecological framework. I advanced this field by exposing birds to lasers in relation to three variables that I predicted would be important to laser saliency; laser colour (green vs. violet), season of exposure (spring vs. fall) and the foraging mode of the targeted water-associated birds (divers, dabblers, and waders). I also examined the environmental covariates of ambient light, time of day (morning vs. evening), weather (fair vs. inclement), and the distance between the laser source and target bird(s). Fieldwork was conducted in and near Edmonton, AB on natural and man-made ponds where I found wild water-associated birds. These included several species of ducks, geese (Family Anatidae), and shorebirds (primarily, Family Charadriidae). In each of several hundred trials, one or more birds was exposed to a moving laser beam trained on the adjacent water, and I recorded whether or not the bird(s) exhibited an escape response by flying away or diving beneath the surface of the water. I found that green lasers were more likely to generate escape responses than violet ones, both lasers were less effective as ambient light increased, and birds were more responsive in morning and spring compared to evening and fall. There was no difference between dabbling and diving birds in their response to lasers, but I was unable to compare the responses of waders due to small sample sizes. The distance of the target bird(s) from the laser source did not affect their responsiveness, supporting the efficacy of lasers as bird deterrents over large spatial scales. Based on complementary information from the literature, I propose that lasers are effective as deterrents for water-associated birds that frequent the oil sands region, that they may be made even more effective by pairing them with a relevant acoustic stimulus, and that the use of violet lasers during dark conditions may lessen the habituation by birds as compared to the use of green lasers alone. These results and their potential extensions could support best practices for bird protection in the oil sands region and, potentially, many other contexts involving conflict between people and birds.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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