Scary animals are new scarecrows

06/24/2010 12:00 AM |

A life-sized cutout of a black labrador guards the athletic fields at Southold Schools.

Owls, coyotes and snakes — oh my!

Though Bill Van Schaick hasn’t seen traditional Wizard of Oz-style scarecrows popping up in local farm fields and gardens, the manager at Talmage Farm Agway in Riverhead said he has been selling a lot of plastic owls and other pretend predators to deter geese and deer.

Mr. Van Schaick added that various methods of scaring pesky animals away from gardens and landscaping have been around for quite some time, but newer products, such as lifelike plastic coyotes, have also hit the market this summer.

“It’s a horrible-looking thing, but it’s a low-impact way of letting nature take care of itself,” he said of the $60 fake. “You’re just startling the animals, you’re not hurting them.”

Agway carries two kinds of fake owls: ones with bobble heads that move with the breeze and others that move electronically. The store also stocks inflatable snakes to keep birds away from swimming pools and a menacing “terror eye” — a hanging ball with moving eyes that will strike fear in any bird, according to Mr. Van Schaick. Other deterrent products include electronic sonic devices that mimic the calls of certain birds of prey.

Some locals employ more home-grown methods of keeping away unwanted animals. George Neamonidis, 80, of East Marion said he uses aluminum plates that clang together to scare the deer away from the garden at his Bay Avenue home. He said that deer have been more of a nuisance than geese in recent years.

“When the wind blows, [the plates] make a little noise and the deer stay far away,” he said. “So right now, I don’t think I need a plastic coyote.”

Joyce Grigonis, a landscape designer at Briarcliff Landscape in Peconic, designs “shadow dogs” for her company. The black wooden dogs, which can be seen in Briarcliff’s sod fields, are 36 inches wide and 150 inches long and are mounted on metal poles so they spin around in the breeze. The movement makes them look as if they are running, which keeps geese away from the field. Southold High School and McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead use similar methods on their grounds.

Ms. Grigonis said that some of Briarcliff’s landscape clients have requested dogs for their own lawns, though the company hasn’t yet begun to sell them commercially.

“Waterfront people with big lawns are asking for them,” she said, adding that she read about the simple dog concept last year online at, a Minnesota-based company that patented its own dog silhouettes in 1996.

“Geese are beautiful creatures, but can become quite a nuisance when they invade our spaces and yuck up our shoes,” reads the website. “Our dogs are a great alternative to hazardous chemical deterrents or inhumane methods of elimination.”

But no matter how scary you think your pest control device is, Mr. Van Schaick recommends moving it around.

“Whatever you do, make sure there’s some movement to it,” he said, “otherwise the birds will get wise.”

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