WEST CHESTER >>Chester County employees and visitors to the county’s Justice Center have been greeted by squawks and screeches, chatters and chitters, cawing and cackling over the past few weeks, all in the name of pigeon-proofing the county-owned parking garage there.
Thanks to the installation of a sonic bird repellent system in the garage, those parking their cars hear something vaguely reminiscent of a bad Tarzan jungle movie sound track, or something not too far from the noise in the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”
The sounds that come from the system’s speakers – one on each of the floors two through six in the multi-level structure – are designed to mimic sounds of fright from pigeons and calls of impending avian doom from predator raptors.
And as much as the system seems to be working – one county employee described seeing pigeons perched on the concrete rafters of the garage scattering like roaches after a light is turned on when the system is activated –it also has caused some consternation in the neighborhood adjacent to the garage on West Market Street.
When the unit – a Electronic Bird Repeller Model 110 db purchased by the county’s Facilities and Parks Department for $1,104 from a retailer in Frazer – was installed three weeks ago, the manufacturer advised that it should be operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the initial break-in period, a county spokeswoman said.
That did not sit well with those whose homes surround the garage.
“At first I thought it was a mockingbird,” said one resident, who asked not to be identified. The screeching noises were easily heard in the night, what with windows open in the cool, fall-like weather, and kept the light sleeper awake. “I wondered where it was coming from, and finally decided it was coming form the garage.”
The contours of the system dictate that the recorded sonic bird bombardment goes on and off at irregular intervals, lasting for a minute or so. “I could hear it all night, even after I closed the windows,” the resident said. “I lost a lot of sleep.”
Rebecca Brain, county public information officer, said last week that the system had been switched to run only during the daytime hours from now on, although what constitutes daytime is open to interpretation. One observer said he heard the artificial birdcalls begin at 6:15 a.m. Saturday.
Brain said the system was installed to attempt to control the population of pigeons that had taken to roosting in the garage. The birds were not only a nuisance – spoiling the hoods and roofs of cars parked beneath them with their droppings – but also a public heath hazard because of the amount of guano they left behind.
“We looked at various options, and this was determined to be the most cost-effective and humane,” Brain said. A similar system had been in place at the county’s former Hazlett Building on North Walnut Street, and is now installed on the tower at the Government Services Center in West Goshen.
The need for a permanent electronic system became evident when the pigeons natural predator – a Peregrine Falcon that had taken up hunting the birds last fall – went elsewhere, having diverted the pigeons away from the garage. “The falcon left its perch and the pigeon population came back,” Brain said.
The soundtrack of the system is unnerving when one first encounters it, said one county employee who was bombarded one night when leaving the office late. But others say that unless someone points it out, the noises are just part of the background hum of life in downtown West Chester.
“When you hear it during the day, it is not nearly as bothersome as it was at night,” said the neighbor whose sleep was disturbed. “Although it is still not pleasant.”
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.
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