Red Light for Birds

Red Light for Birds

The potential of LED to act as a deterrent to various creatures (including elephants) is being explored around the world in all sorts of situations. We have done stories on green LEDs reducing the number of turtles and cormorants caught in nets and touched on the use of blue/green instead of white LED streetlighting to prevent migratory birds being confused.

Choose the way

Now researchers at Purdue University have conducted a series of experiments to see if LEDs can help reduce the problem of bird strikes at airports. To find out what kind of light might work, they used a common bird in the United States, the brown-headed cowbird, and put them through a choice test or what scientists like to call a ‘behavioural assay’. The birds were released a short distance away from two large holes – one with an LED on next to it and one without. A single choice test like this instead of one that gives a choice of colours is, according to the experts, best for measuring avoidance behaviour. The researchers experimented with 5 different wavelengths of light to see which ones the birds consistently avoided.

UV or not UV?

Because birds are thought to have better vision in the ultraviolet range it was anticipated that UV might be the part of the spectrum they steer clear of. That proved not to be the case. Along with green and white light, UV didn’t demonstrate any clear pattern of attraction or repulsion.

Generating behaviour

But the cowbirds consistently avoided blue and red LEDs, raising the possibility that those colours might be useful as high-tech scarecrows. The leader of the study, Professor Esteban Fernandez-Juricic, says: “We’re able to test not just whether a light may be highly visible to a bird or not, but whether that light leads to the behaviours we’re trying to generate.”  Avoiding jet engines is a behaviour worth encouraging, although it’s not likely that aircraft turbines are going to be lit in red or blue any time soon.

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