Oregon State University to pilot UAVs at Riverbend

By Don Iler
August 2014

Waste Management Inc. has decided to partner with researchers at Oregon State University to see if unmanned aerial vehicles can be used to scare away pest birds from McMinnville's Riverbend Landfill.

The landfill is currently using falcons to scare off seagulls and starlings attracted by the easy pickings, and that has driven their numbers down about 75 percent, according to spokeswoman Jackie Lang. "We've seen positive results from the falcon program, based on bird counts from the landfill and feedback from landfill neighbors," she said.

Led by Professor John Parmigiani, a mechanical engineer, the two-year project will use UAVs in an attempt to rid the landfill of its remaining gull and starling population. An initial demonstration is planned next month.

UAVs could have a range of applications in agriculture, especially in vineyards. And one of them might be scaring fruit-eating birds away from ripening grapes. So there is broad interest.

Riverbend is under state Department of Environmental Quality mandate to control birds at the site, and thinks UAVs might prove a useful component.

"We expect the OSU program will complement our current falcon program," Lang said. "We see the two working together to manage the starling and seagull problem and fundamentally change their foraging pattern."

Parmigiani led a study two years ago to see if UAVs could be successfully used to scare waxwings, starlings and ravens from vineyards near Junction City, according to OSU's Terra Magazine.

Two student groups created UAVs. One shot streamers and lasers and the other mimicked the flight patterns of a Cooper's hawk. The results were inconclusive, but the idea was judged to have potential.

Yamhill County has eagerly embraced UAV development in recent years. It hosted a Precision Agriculture Expo in April and was named as a UAV testing site by the FAA.

The Riverbend study could help keep the county at the forefront, local officials say.

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