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What's that noise? 'Sound cannons' used to scare off birds near Santa Maria strawberry farms

sound cannon .jpg
Posted at 6:04 PM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-22 23:36:04-04

Some Santa Maria residents are hearing repetitive 'booming' noises throughout the day.

Strawberry growers near W. Battles Rd. and A St. are using ‘sound cannons’ or ‘bird cannons’ to scare off birds during the beginning of the harvest season.

Many neighbors said they just started noticing it two weeks ago and are unbothered by it, but the loud sounds can be problematic for veterans, babies, and animals.

The booming sounds can be heard about every 30 seconds to a minute from sunrise to sunset.

“It sounds like someone is shooting fireworks, having a good time or someone firing a gunshot,” said Andy Mena, who can hear the loud noises from his house.

According to agricultural experts, bird cannons are typically used to scare away birds and mitigate predation on the berries for both strawberries and grapes.

They are non-chemical compared to other techniques, but they can disturb the peace.

“Our dog definitely doesn't like loud booms so he will freak out, run around the house, bark loud, which is tough because we have a newborn and it wakes her up,” said neighbor Alex Christopher Escalante.

A bird cannon consists of a tube and it's propelled by propane.

“It doesn't shoot anything out, but it does make a very loud cannon-like noise,” said Santa Barbara County Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Lottie Martin.

Farmers can also use netting, traps, and shiny tape to ward off birds, but each situation may require different tools.

The City of Santa Maria and the county agriculture commission have received nearly 20 noise complaints in the last two weeks, which is higher than average for this time of year.

Throughout California, growers are covered by right-to-farm laws to ensure food safety.

“We can’t have any enforcement on them, but we will try and talk to them and we will work with them to be a better neighbor, reduce the frequency or point the cannons away from homes, maybe move them farther away from the homes,” Martin said.

Many neighbors said they can cope with the nuisance if it means fresh, uncontaminated produce.

“If this is a necessary thing for strawberries or whatever they are growing, then it's fine by us. We appreciate the food in our family,” Escalante said.

When there is a bird or animal problem, food safety is the priority, and farmers can use best practices though sound cannons are not as popular.

The USDA and the Santa Barbara AG Commission are working with the grower or growers to find quieter alternatives, but there is no timeline for how long the booming noises will continue.

KSBY tried to reach out to the growers in this area but was unable to speak with any of them.