A scarecrow with brains

Two University of South Australia researchers have developed software that has the potential to save the fruit industry millions of dollars each year by limiting the damage birds cause to fruit crops.

Two University of South Australia (UniSA) researchers have developed software that has the potential to save the fruit industry millions of dollars each year by limiting the damage birds cause to fruit crops.

Melanie Symons and Chris Clark developed the software as part of their Engineering studies at UniSA’s Mawson Lakes campus under the supervision of Dr. Kutluyil Dogancay and Adjunct Prof Malcolm Haskard.

The software itself identifies bird species by performing digital signal processing techniques on bird-calls recorded using a microphone and comparing these to the call characteristics of birds stored in a computer library.

Then, when a ‘problematic’ bird is detected, the software chooses one of several different scaring techniques specific to that bird species which is then broadcast in the vicinity of the bird. Some are general such as loud music, while others are more species specific such as predator calls, alarm and distress calls.

The researchers also determined why traditional bird scaring methods such as scarecrows or air-guns have proved ineffective.

“Existing techniques fail because the birds become accustomed to them easily. Our research has suggested that scaring techniques need to be species specific and more than one scaring technique is needed to ‘maximise scaring efficiency’. If you randomly combine auditory and visual scaring techniques the number of unique scaring combinations increases and the birds won’t become accustomed to them as easily,” Clark said.

The study focussed mainly on the Adelaide Rosella, which is regarded by cherry farmers as the most biggest threat to crops. Even with existing bird scaring techniques in place, some farmers still experience a minimum 30% damage to their crop by birds.

While the software development is only the first part of the project, both students believe that future research will enable it to be developed commercially into an affordable hardware unit that would become a permanent fixture in fruit orchards.