During my travels I have utilized hundreds of trains, subways, buses and other forms of mass transportation. I have also gazed upward (tourist-image-be-damned) to take in hundreds (thousands?) of buildings. In every city, as well as more than a few suburbs or towns, I have found myself looking at evidence of the human futility known as rat and pigeon protection. Most of the time these consist of sharp spikes sticking out of building ledges, like the giant fangs of a vicious thorn bearing plant; or metal coverings placed over possible entry points. While it is obvious that none of these things work, the most perplexing among the most frequently recurring options is the giant eye.
Imagine a large beach ball hanging from a ceiling and decorated to look like a brown target with the darkest circle in the very center. It has a vague resemblance to an eye and it is meant to scare away pigeons by imitating the appearance of a bird of prey during an attack. I have yet to see a giant eye that was not covered in pigeon poop or acting as a perch for several pigeons and other random birds.
I really started to think about the giant eye while in the Philadelphia 30th street train station. I was fidgeting away the minutes, waiting for a commuter train, when I glanced up and noticed the poop-covered eye hanging from the ceiling and could not help but wonder how many generations of pigeons had come and gone without ever once encountering a bird of prey – ANY bird of prey. How can you expect a scare tactic to work when the instincts the fear is based in are so far removed from the animal’s reality that they have (literally) been forgotten?
When I ran across this article in Modern Farmer, I immediately thought about the giant eye and all of the pigeons, rats, bugs and heaven-only-knows what else simply waiting to be feasted upon by the first predator with both opportunity and a realistic chance of surviving in the midst of human-only habitation.
Of course, barn owls are interested in rats, not pigeons, but the train stations and subways have plenty of those. It would be an interesting challenge to create a realistic living space that provided the owls a safe place to live, free access to wild food sources and protection from oncoming traffic – including airplanes, trains, trolleys, buses, trucks and cars. I don’t know if it’s possible or practical, but it would be far more effective than the giant eye.
“Unlike other owl species, like great-horned owl or barred owl, barn owls have a heavy preference for rats and mice. And while they might be adorable, they are also natural killers…One barn owl can cover over a mile and will eat between three and six mice each night, approximately 2,000 mice yearly. A family, including chicks, in one nest box, can devour 8,000 mice in one year.”
“So how to get owls to take up residence on your property? Barn owls want homes that are cozy, warm and safe. Many live in rafters, tree cavities and in barns because they do not build nests. This gives farmers the opportunity to provide a home and enable owls to hunt rodents in fields, improving crop production, yield and profit.”
–How to Build a Barn Owl Nest, Modern Farmer, by By