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Utah middle schoolers invent device to prevent bird strikes

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH — A group of four Utah tweens is getting nationally recognized for inventing a device to keep away birds from planes.

Bird strikes have been happening for years – there were more than 200 in 2015 at Salt Lake International — but after learning about “The Miracle on the Hudson,” the 12-year-olds from Sandy, Utah wanted to do something more about it.

Abigail Slama-Catron, Allison Drennan, Eric Snaufer and Timothy Holt are on a First Lego League team together. Working with the Salt Lake International Airport, they researched robotic bait, greasing bridges, power washing nests and more.

“We also looked at a sound system, but within a week the bird got used to it, so that didn’t fly. Sorry, bad pun,” said Eric.

“We found a Cornell University study that shows that random motion scares birds away,” said Abigail.

Blueprints, prototypes, drilling, sewing, and experimenting led them to the final product, which they call the Bionic Scarecrow.

It’s basically a small battery powered wind sock air dancer, and it works.

“When we tested it at the airport, they said that was the first time the birds had stayed away,” said Allison.

“If you look inside, it’s just battery, fuse, switch, etc,” said Timothy.

The battery makes the air flow push the into the orange wind sock so that it flaps in the air.

They built six. Three of them are now being used at the Salt Lake International Airport to drastically cut down the amount of geese, ducks, and other birds near the runways.

“We use them in nesting locations here at the airport. We can even float them in the water, to prevent ducks from coming and roosting in those areas,” said the airport’s wildlife biologist, Bobby Boswell.

“We had problems using other dispersal techniques in those areas,” he said. “No one has ever scaled this down to this scale. They are tough, they are cheap, and they are mobile,” he said in a YouTube video put together by the team.

Abigail, Allison, Eric and Tim met at Sunrise Elementary School. Now as they start two different middle schools, they are getting nationally recognized for their bionic scarecrow. In July, they accepted an award at the regional EPA office in Denver. They are presenting at the North American Bird Strike Conference in Dallas on August 23 before going to Washington DC to accept another award.

Now they say they are looking to the future. They have a patent and may start a business. They have heard from other airports and industries – like those connected with anything from beaches to oil pits — who are interested in how the device can help them.

“We have a target of 216 airports, mainly along bird migratory routes or near wetlands,” said Allison. “And Hill Air Force Base,” added Eric.

“We are just trying to help the world as we can because it is up to our generation to make the world better,” said Abigail.

To learn more about the team and their invention, you can visit their Facebook page or their GoFundMe page as they raise funds to take the trips to Texas and Washington, D.C.

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