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Utah kids' 'bionic scarecrow' reduces bird strikes at Salt Lake airport

By Mary Richards  |  Posted Aug 18th, 2017 @ 10:00am


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SALT LAKE CITY — A group of four Utah tweens has been nationally recognized for inventing a device to scare away birds from planes.

After learning about "The Miracle on the Hudson," where a plane leaving New York in 2009 struck a flock of geese, forcing the aircraft to land in the Hudson River, a group of 12-year-olds from Sandy wanted to do something more to prevent incidents like that from happening.

Bird strikes have been happening for years at airports, with more than 200 in 2015 at the Salt Lake International Airport.

Sunrise Elementary students Abigail Slama-Catron, Allison Drennan, Eric Snaufer and Timothy Holt, started working with the Salt Lake International Airport to research robotic bait, greasing bridges, power washing nests and more.

“We also looked at a sound system, but within a week the birds got used to it, so that didn’t fly. Sorry, bad pun,” Eric said.

But soon, the group found a solution.

“We found a Cornell University study that shows that random motion scares birds away,” Abigail added.

Blueprints, prototypes, drilling, sewing and experimenting led the group to the final product, which they call the Bionic Scarecrow. It’s basically a small battery-powered wind sock air dancer, and it works.

“When we tested it at the airport, they said that was the first time the birds had stayed away,” Allison said.

The battery makes the air flow push into the orange wind sock so that it flaps in the air.

“If you look inside, it’s just battery, fuse, switch, etc.,” Timothy said.

The Bionic Porcupines 2.0 show airport and EPA officials their Bionic Scarecrow device being tested at the airport. Photo: Julie Slama

The group built six devices, and three of them are being used at the Salt Lake International Airport, to drastically cut down the amount of geese, ducks and other birds near the runways.

“We use them in nesting locations here at the airport," said airport wildlife biologist Bobby Boswell. "We can even float them in the water to prevent ducks from coming and roosting in those areas."

Boswell said they had problems with other techniques to disperse the bird, but that no one had "ever scaled this down to this scale."

"They are tough, they are cheap, and they are mobile,” he said in a YouTube video put together by the team.

As these kids enter middle school, they will have national recognition to take with them.

Four sixth-graders spoke at the EPA Region 8 meeting in Denver. They are shown here with USDA Airport Wildlife Biologist Bobby Boswell, who was acknowledged by the USDA, EPA and students for mentoring the team. Photo: Julie Slama

In July, they accepted an award at the regional Environmental Protection Agency office in Denver, and are presenting at the North American Bird Strike Conference in Dallas on Aug. 23, before going to Washington DC to accept another award.

The group said they're now looking to the future and have plans potentially start a business. Their device has been patented, and they've heard from other airports and industries — including those connected to beaches or oil pits — interested in how the devices can help them.

“We have a target of 216 airports, mainly along bird migratory routes or near wetlands,” Allison said.

The group also plans to get its device used at Hill Air Force Base.

“We are just trying to help the world as we can, because it is up to our generation to make the world better,” Abigail said.

To learn more about the team and their invention, you can visit their Facebook page, or their GoFundMe page* as they fundraise to take the trips to Texas and Washington DC.

*Disclaimer: KSL.com has not verified the accuracy of the information provided with respect to the account nor does KSL.com assure that the monies deposited will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit or donation you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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