Giant owl decoy takes up residence on Clyde B. Wells Bridge

August 18, 2016

A giant owl decoy helps save roosting birds demise on the 331 bridge. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors
A giant owl decoy helps save roosting birds demise on the 331 bridge. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Whooo is that owl and what is he doing on the bridge?

In mid-July Freeport resident Marilue Maris noticed something horrifying while driving over the Clyde B. Wells Bridge. Dozens of dead starlings were scatted across the northern span of the bridge. Worried, Maris reached out to Florida Audubon, Walton County Public Works, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). FDOT took action and installed an owl decoy to help mitigate the precarious situation for the starlings.

Tanya Sanders Branton, public information specialist for FDOT explains –

In mid-July 2016 flocks of birds were noted roosting in large numbers on the existing Clyde B. Wells Bridge. The birds were primarily observed near where the existing bridge and the newly constructed bridge are closest together and of similar same height.

The birds were observed each morning at sunrise flying from the barrier wall across the travel lanes of the new bridge. Many were meeting their demise colliding with rush hour traffic.

Construction team members and district environmental personnel consulted regarding potential solutions. It was learned that the department has encountered similar problems with birds in other areas of the state. However, the mitigation measures used were designed for larger species, such as pelicans. While these measures have been effective for larger birds, they were deemed infeasible for the smaller birds at this location.

The contractor was initially asked to place a fabric drape over the barrier wall, in hopes that it would deter the birds from roosting so close to the new bridge and live travel lanes. This technique was unsuccessful and the early morning collisions continued.

Next, the team researched methods used to protect vegetable gardens from small birds. It was learned that placing decoy predators, such as owls, near gardens has been an effective, low-cost, low-tech measure.

A decoy was purchased at a local home and garden store and placed on the barrier wall of the Clyde B. Wells Bridge. Project personnel continued observing the location daily and noticed two things: (1) fewer birds roosted near the decoy; and, (2) moving the birds farther away from the new bridge resulted in fewer collisions with rush hour traffic.

“The birds still roost on the bridge,” reports project engineer Fred Brown, “but the predator decoy standing guard appears to have moved them further from the new bridge. Now when they fly at sunrise, they’re far enough from live traffic that they can gain enough altitude to fly above the danger.”