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Posted 3/29/2016

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By Patrice Creel
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Public Affairs


Like scientists and engineers, border collies are problem-solvers, so Research Biologist Dena Dickerson with the U.S Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory knew this intelligent animal could be an ideal solution for bird control at Oklahoma’s Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam.

Personnel from the dam requested ERDC’s assistance for an innovative solution to roust thousands of cormorants and gulls. For the past decade increasing numbers roosted all over the dam in October through April, resulting in health and safety hazards, as well as costly equipment repairs and labor for constant bird droppings’ cleanup. The Corps’ Tulsa District estimated yearly dam equipment damage at $10,000 due to metal corrosion, while yearly cleanup charges spiraled to $27,000 in 2015.

The $3,500 problem solver, named Ellie, appeared in October 2015.

As a well-known conservationist, Dickerson called upon her expertise as an avid dog enthusiast and professional trainer to demonstrate what resulted in the perfect solution when formerly used bird spikes, wires and loud noises failed. She was the principal investigator for the project, supported by the Dredging Operations Technical Support Program, coordinated by EL’s Cynthia Banks, and the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory’s Navigation Systems Program, managed by Eddie Wiggins.

“When I was approached with this problem, I immediately thought about trying border collies. These dogs are incredibly smart and have a natural instinct to herd. When they see the large birds all over the structure, they immediately try to herd them away. They primarily just want to make the birds move away and are not interested in killing them, which is why they can be used safely for the birds.

“This breed has been used to haze and scare off geese and other wildlife from runways of military bases for at least 20 years. They are also used to scare off nuisance geese at places such as cemeteries, golf courses, soccer fields and the National Mall in Washington, DC. They had never been used at a lock and dam facility for cormorants and gulls, but we felt that it was worth a try,” Dickerson said. 

Trial runs

In April 2015, Dickerson took one of her personal border collies, trained in agility and herding sheep, for a demonstration to the Kerr facility personnel to see if the concept might work.

“My dog had never seen anything like cormorants but immediately knew what to do and hazed the birds off the railing and walkways of the structure. The lock personnel were so impressed that I identified where to get one of these dogs that was specifically trained to do this type of job,” Dickerson said.

Owned by Rebecca Moore of Flyaway Farms in North Carolina, Ellie was initially leased but just four months later was purchased, because lock personnel said she was so successful in keeping the birds away from their structure. 

Ellie’s Monthly Monitoring

“The birds still use rocky areas near the structure to roost and feed during winter, but they no longer use the Kerr structure as long as Ellie is present. I facilitated the implementation of the dog patrol at the Kerr structure and have conducted a monthly monitoring program to evaluate the success of the dog patrol effort and monitored the care and safety program for the dog.

“We are also working with the Kerr facility personnel to develop training exercises and activities that they can do with Ellie to keep her ‘tuned up’ until the birds come back again for next year's winter roosting,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson said she was not surprised that this would be successful.

“I was surprised at how fast we had success. As soon as Ellie arrived, the birds were gone from the structure. The lock operators have to work hard to find birds for her to get to work. I am thrilled that this has been such a team effort to implement a win-win solution to a really nasty problem,” Dickerson said.

Ellie and her accomplishments have received a great deal of media attention from internet postings, newspaper articles and on the scene television news stories. Once again, ERDC provided an innovation solution making Oklahoma’s Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam safer and better.

As Dickerson noted, “Ellie is especially happy. She gets to have a border collie's dream job.”

EL