By Diana M. Alba DALBA@LCSUN-NEWS.COM
LAS CRUCES – If you’ve ever stopped at the McDonald’s on El Paseo Road, or just strolled by on the sidewalk, you may have noticed a raucous screeching.It sounds – at first listen – as if a flock of noisy birds must be somewhere nearby, perhaps roosting on the rooftop. But the exact source of the shrill squawking seems a mystery.
“You hear the noise and you look up and say: ‘There’s no birds,’” said Michelle Mendez, 24, of Anthony, N.M., who visited the McDonald’s on El Paseo Road on Tuesday.The screeching has been heard, at times, on the McDonald’s on North Main Street, as well.
If your curiosity has ever been piqued, wonder no more.The mysterious, intermittent noise isn’t real birds. Rather, it’s an audio recording of birds in distress, meant for scaring away pesky fowl such as pigeons, said Keel Price, wildlife biologist and district supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services branch. The agency carries out various types of pest control.
“Sometimes non-lethal deterrents work,” he said. “It’s probably effective.”
The idea is that the sound of a bird in crisis will seem like a threat, Price said. But he pointed out that the ploy only works for so long before birds become accustomed to it. If the recording plays continuously, he said, the birds more quickly realize that they’re not in danger and become acclimated.
“Even thesmallest-brained of birds can only expend so much energy fleeing false threats,” he said.
To make the devices more effective, it helps to lengthen the amount of the pause between rounds of screeching, Price said. And even better, he said, is to rotate the audio with other non-lethal deterrents, such as “scary-eyed” balloons, fake great horned owls and rubber snakes.
“If people will change them out, they work much longer,” he said. “They need to change these up and rotate them.”
Mike Lavin, the owner of most of the Las Cruces McDonald’s restaurants, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Frank Fiore, district manager for the state Environment Department, which does restaurant inspections, said there’s no regulation against birds on eatery rooftops. But their presence could cause problems if a facility ever had a leak in the roof that carried bird droppings into a kitchen. A roof leak at a Georgia peanut butter processing facility was behind in a massive recall in recent years, he said.
“If there are openings in the ceiling, it’s in the category of violations we’d label as low-risk, but it could actually turn into high-risk, if we had rain water with pigeon feces in it running into a place where food is being prepared.”
Fiore said he didn’t recall any restaurants – whether McDonald’s or not – where that’s been a problem.
Price said air conditioning units on rooftops tend to attract birds, in the summer especially, because they provide shade and water at the same time. Wrapping poultry wire around the base, to keep birds from getting underneath, is a good way to prevent that, he said.
Mendez and her mother said they’d noticed the screeching noises previously when visiting the laundromat across the street from the El Paseo McDonald’s but didn’t realize what it was. After learning it was a bird deterrent, they said they thought it was a good idea, especially at a restaurant setting.
“It’s pretty smart,” Mendez said. “You help keep pigeons away and you keep the disease away.”Audio recordings often are used to scare blackbirds, seagulls and sometimes Canada geese, Price said.
Diana M. Alba can be reached at (575) 541-5443.