I was contacted by a Real Simple Magazine writer a few years ago asking if putting a plastic owl in a window would prevent songbirds from hitting the glass. My slightly smart-alecky answer was that an Elvis doll would be as effective as a plastic owl. Shortly after the article got published I got an e-mail from a manufacturer of plastic owls. He said they worked and he sent me two to try them out. Well, I don’t have a problem with birds hitting my windows, so I put them in my vegetable garden which sees a lot of avian visitors munching on my spinach. One of the owls was a life sized, semi-realistic looking Great Horned Owl; the other was similar except that it had a moving “bobble-head.”
I was curious, so I watched the garden. As far as I could tell, the birds kept their distance but after a few days went back to their old habits of chewing on my veggies. Moving the owls to different spots had no effect. I put them on poles so they would move in the wind; no effect. When Northern Flickers decided to peck their way through our roof eaves, I put an owl up there; no effect.
The owls have been “guarding” my garden for years now and have for a couple of seasons served as a perch for a Black Phoebe to oversee its territory and sally out from to catch bugs. Other people have found the same thing. Here’s an internet review from another plastic owl owner: “I guess that it’s no worse and probably a little better than a garden gnome. Sadly, it won’t scare away birds any better than a garden gnome, either. While I haven’t seen a bird sit on it, they have walked over to it to inspect it. I have tried multiple locations and the only way it will scare birds is if you throw it at them.”
One plastic owl for sale on the internet has a battery-operated moving head and is advertised as a device to keep birds out of the garden but it is for “INDOOR USE ONLY.” Huh? But there are some battery-operated owls with moving heads and hooting sounds that apparently are somewhat effective, at least with starlings and pigeons.
In response to the question about plastic owls at a home improvement store, shoppers said: “You need an entire vignette which includes squirrels on the tree trunk, plastic Bambi, and a gnome family. A chicken with ceramic chicks following behind completes the look.””It works better if you can send the owl out on patrol in some kind of motorized cart. A model train can work if you attach the owl securely enough, and if the curves aren’t too sharp.”
A building supervisor in New York said that moving the owls frequently sometimes confuses the pigeons. Perhaps the moral is: ”You can fool some of the pigeons some of the time, but not all of the pigeons all of the time.” Save your money.
By the way, apparently the most effective non-lethal bird deterrents are a cd/dvd or two hung on a string so that it moves in the wind or mylar balloons.