When birds settle into our landfills, it is a danger not only to them, but also to the environment. Thankfully, there are measures both citizens and landfill managers can put in place to reduce this growing problem.
By Aleksa Beniusis

Landfills are an essential element to urban society, however any “new” commodity triggers new problems. The issue here is directly associated to our ecological environment. What we see as a dump, birds see as an endless buffet. When birds settle into our landfills, it is a danger not only to them, but also to the environment. The danger for birds lies in digesting garbage, thus promoting the transportation of diseases all while deregulating their migration patterns. As for the environment, it extends to the spreading of garbage, water contamination and bird nuisance. Thankfully, there are measures both citizens and landfill managers can put in place to reduce this growing problem.

A Laissez-Faire Approach to the Situation Puts Birds at Danger
When birds feed on the sites they are already drifting away from their natural diet. By eating landfill waste they inevitably ingest plastic, aluminum, drywall and other common materials—many of which can be deadly. Although gulls are remarkably tough when it comes to ingesting these materials since they possess the power to regurgitate anything that upsets their stomachs, other seabirds simply cannot and can suffer greatly.

Another danger for birds is related to their natural instinct to migrate over the winter. The simple reason behind bird migration is that they are looking for optimal areas to feed and breed. Over the last few years, there have been increasing instances in which birds have stopped going as far south in order to find closer nesting areas near landfills due to their endless supply of food. Moreover, when birds have chicks, the babies tend to disregard their parents’ traditional migration behaviors in order to find more optimal areas to nest and feed. In the modern world, landfills are an easy yet dangerous nesting area.

Not only is their presence on landfills a danger to themselves, but there are associated risks that can have serious effects on the workers as well. Birds and their fecal matter can carry more than 60 transmissible diseases, some of which are known to be fatal to humans. Landfill workers are inevitably exposed to such, creating a workplace hazard. These birds then move to other locations further promoting the spread of diseases. To add to the matter, birds are also carriers of ectoparasites, defined as a parasite that lives on the exterior of its host (the bird).

Spreading the Problem to Surrounding Environments
The issue here does not end on the landfills. The birds’ presence on the sites also has a negative effect on the surrounding environment. Birds do not limit themselves to staying directly on the sites. When they move to other locations, they often carry garbage from the sites with them. As they start spreading this garbage, they are also spreading diseases by exposing waste that hasn’t been properly covered. Landfills have many regulations that they must obey in order to keep the sites safe and sanitary; however, they have very little control over the birds’ actions.

The problem becomes even greater when the birds reach water. Not only are they carrying waste with them, but their droppings also contain something much worse—high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. These chemical elements cause rapid growth of algae which then leads to a process called eutrophication (depletion of oxygen levels in the water). This can kill fish and make water cloudy, rendering it difficult to treat for drinking.

Birds constitute a workplace hazard for landfills.

Overall, birds’ presence on landfills accustoms them to being around citizens. When they become unafraid of people, they start to disrupt us by hanging around public areas like open-air restaurants, people’s backyards, and so on. The sad reality is that this is often the only effect noticed by the public. Considering the “superficialness” of this effect—most don’t realize the true underlying issue causing their disruptive behavior.

Recognizing the Issue and Implementing Solutions
In order to prevent this from becoming a bigger problem in the future, there are certain habits both citizens and landfill managers can adopt. For citizens, the solution is easy. By implementing proper bird feeding habits such as using bird feeders, citizens can provide a safe-haven for birds on their travels, thus helping them on their journey to a natural diet. Furthermore, landfill managers are encouraging composting, which not only diminishes the quantity of wasted food available to birds in landfills, but also has many other benefits such as enriching soil that helps retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests, encouraging production of beneficial bacteria, reducing methane emissions from landfills, and overall reducing our carbon footprints.

For the landfills, the trick is finding the right bird repellent solution to fit their needs. There are currently a variety of tools available for this purpose, although some are more efficient than others. Traditional methods include visual decoys, sonic and ultrasonic systems and gas cannons. Thanks to technological advances, there is a newly innovative product emerging on the market to meet this need: the laser bird repeller.

The laser tower is a visual deterrent. Once a zone is specified, the laser continuously scans that area. What we see as a green dot, birds see as a 3D form and perceive that as a predator coming towards them which scares them off. Powered with solar panels, this system can function 24/7 to protect the sites. As the lasers are environmentally friendly, have higher efficiency and lower overall costs, this tool could be a very promising solution for landfills.
Overall, what is most important is recognizing the amplitude of this issue on wildlife. Considering landfills are generally kept away from the public eye, it is not a first-hand concern to most citizens. The only people who face this issue on a daily basis are people working directly on the sites. We must first acknowledge the problem in order to prevent it.

Aleksa Beniusis is the Director of Marketing at Lockbird (Montreal, QC), a company that specializes in intelligent bird repellent solutions. She is a third-year marketing student at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business. Upon joining Lockbird’s team, Aleksa became fascinated by the environmental issues surrounding the bird control industry. She can be reached at [email protected] or visit www.lockbird.ca.