Argus Vision uses imitation falcon to chase away seagulls

Using model planes to chase away seagulls? Might sound rather mad, but to Argus Vision it’s a logical step. Our International Car Operators case proved this luminous idea really works. Where all other interventions failed, our ‘imitation falcon’ worked a treat. Since this year, the Zeebrugge terminal of this cargo handling and storage specialist is almost entirely seagull-free. 

Logistics hub for cars

Japanese company ICO is a subsidiary of Nippon Yusen Kaisha and handles over 2.5 million cars in Antwerp and Zeebrugge annually. “Simply stated, we make sure that vehicles of different car brands reach their respective destination”, explains Jan Werbrouck.

“The cars arrive in Belgium by sea, train or truck. We park these cars on our terrains, which span over 200 ha. We then prepare the cars correctly to be shipped again by sea, train or road to their next destination.”

Seagulls cause a lot of hassle 

Because of its location by the North Sea, the harbour of Zeebrugge is hit harder by seagull colonies than Antwerp or Gent. These birds are a real nuisance to food processing companies, but also other kinds of businesses aren’t too happy with their presence. Take ICO for example, where the damage caused by these birds ran in the tens of thousands of euros each year. 

“These birds go mad about mussels they catch in the docks”, clarifies Jan Werbrouck. “Once caught, they drop them from their beak to break the shell open. Of course, some of these mussels fall on a car, which as such isn’t much of an issue. However, seagulls sometimes take a cobble for a mussel, and a small stone indeed causes a dent in the car. Worse even: a broken window or mirror. We are responsible for the repairs and that comes with a significant price tag.” 

Moreover the birds’ droppings burn into the paint of the new cars, of course also causing damage. And let’s face it: no car dealer wants to receive a soiled car – as well as our corporate image not allowing us to do so. We were therefore forced to hire a cleaning team, again at significant cost.”  

Argus Vision, last hope

For years ICO tried all techniques imaginable to chase away the birds: spikes, canons, sound systems, laser beams, mirror balloons, static birds of prey… Even the buildings’ roofs had been adjusted to stop nests from being built. “To no avail at all”, sighs Jan Werbrouck. “Each time, the seagulls seemed to get used to it, or they found a way around. The only exception was the use of birds of prey. Sadly, falconers aren’t that easy to find in Belgium, hence it is a pretty expensive solution. Eventually fate came into play when we met Argus Vision at a trade fair. Our conversation about the options of using drones for security purposes led to the seagull issue. Argus Vision felt triggered to find a way to fix it, which kicked off the next steps.”  

Unique concept with a model plane

Argus Vision had read somewhere imitation birds of prey could be the best option. “An Italian professor mentioned this idea”, continues co-owner Seppe Koop. “But there were no actual cases to prove this theory. We started to observe a couple of falconers and researched the behaviour of these birds. Eventually, we succeeded in developing a unique concept that could actually work. Our main finding was that the birds of prey don’t have to flap their wings. To catch a seagull, they swoop down without moving them. That is how we decided to deploy our model plane. We built a body resembling that of a falcon out of polystyrene and for maximum effect we painted brown feathers all over it. Next, we started to become experts in imitating the way falcons fly. The essence is taking off in a circular motion, to then swoop down towards the seagulls. Once we mastered this, we could get to work at ICO.”

Innovative approach pays off

During breeding season (from March till the end of June), Argus Vision was present at the ICO sites to fly the imitation falcon. “It immediately became clear the seagulls regarded our model plane as a bird of prey”, smiles co-owner Jonas Van de Winkel. 

“Even more interesting was the fact other birds of prey were attracted by the fake falcon. Not in an aggressive way, but rather to help fight the seagulls. Some months later we also received confirmation there was no sign of habituation. In other words: our method worked perfectly.” “It was one hell of a job though to completely get rid of the seagulls at the ICO sites”, continues Seppe Koop. “These birds are extremely stubborn by nature, so you do need to be persistent. In the end, it took us four years to chase away both colonies.” 

Jan Werbrouck details: “Admittedly, it did take some investments. But those do not weigh up against the benefits: clean cars and a significantly lower number of damage cases. A huge thank you to Argus Vision for this ground-breaking idea. Something no-one thought possible, this drone specialist made happen!”    

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