Rome's bird-busters: who else you gonna call?

Wed Nov 26, 2008 8:52pm EST
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By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Dressed from head to toe in a protective white suit and face mask, Fabrizio Zani is paid to prevent Rome's birds from getting a peaceful night's sleep.

As millions of starlings dart above the Vatican, Zani and a dozen colleagues prepare an ear-splitting racket to try to keep away the creatures which descend on Rome each autumn from northern Europe.

With a flick of a switch, a shrill sound -- to the human ear somewhere between a rusty barn door opening and fingernails dragging down a blackboard -- blasts out.

It is a recording of the starlings' own distress call, amplified hundreds of times.

In the confusion that follows it's impossible to tell if the birds are actually bothered by the row. But people hurry away, looking back in incomprehension, grimacing at the birds' stench, or shielding themselves with umbrellas from bird droppings.

"We use a different cry each day," said Giovanni Albarella, coordinator of the starling squad run by the Italian League for the Protection of Birds (Lipu) which runs the scheme and has recorded a dozen different bird cries.

"It's all about fooling them," he told Reuters. "The trick is to make them think they are in danger."

Rome is not alone in its battle. London has used hawks to actually kill pigeons in Trafalgar Square, while in New York's Times Square authorities also used a noise-making device to scare away birds in 2006.   Continued...

<p>Starlings fill the dusk sky over Rome November 19, 2008. A hazard to walkers, motorists and some of the world's most treasured monuments, thousands of the starlings earlier this month forced a Ryanair passenger jet to make an emergency landing at the city's Ciampino airport. On their own the birds, which each weigh about 80 grams (3 ounces), are not much danger. But when flying in flocks so dense they can block out the sun, they are a hazard and their stench is like a poorly cleaned cage at a zoo. Picture taken November 19, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Helgren</p>