An owl decoy is perched on an upper floor window ledge on the Rudman and Winchell Building in downtown Bangor. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

This story was originally published in March 2021.

Owl decoys are essentially scarecrows for birds. These statuettes made to look like the predatory birds are said to keep birds away from your property if you are having avian issues.

But do owl decoys actually work?

Owl decoys are usually constructed of plastic or rubber. They can provide a low-cost and non-lethal method of repelling some wildlife pests, particularly birds or rodents that typically fall prey to the winged predators.

“Owl decoys are generally used to frighten birds or rodents that may be destroying crops, harming landscape plants, damaging buildings or causing a nuisance in some other way,” said Griffin Dill, integrated pest management specialist at the University of Maine. “As owls are predators, the hope is that nuisance animals will recognize these decoys as a threat and avoid the areas in which they’re placed.”

However, Dill said, pest experts have found owl decoys to be limited in how long they are effective. Even the most skittish prey animals are wise enough to figure out that the scary statue isn’t likely to cause them any harm.

“While birds and other nuisance wildlife may initially be frightened away by the owl decoys, they quickly learn that the decoys don’t pose a threat and resume their activities within a few days,” Dill said.

If you have your heart set on trying owl decoys in order to control your nuisance wildlife cheaply and non-lethally, Dill said you can take some steps to improve their effectiveness.

“To improve the effectiveness of decoy owls, frequently change their position and add the element of movement by placing streamers nearby or dangling the decoy from a rope,” Dill said. “Some commercially available decoy owls include moving parts and even speakers to produce sounds that can help scare away nuisance wildlife.”

When it comes to using owl decoys, Dill said that timing also matters.

“If the goal is to protect a specific garden crop, the placement of the decoys should be timed to ensure protection, without providing enough time for birds to grow accustomed to them,” Dill said.

Overall, though, Dill said that owl decoys tend to be limited in their effectiveness at deterring birds and other wildlife. There are other methods that might be more effective, but less aesthetically pleasing.

“Wild animals are highly intelligent and typically become used to these options as well,” Dill said. “Physical barriers, like bird netting, can provide protection in certain situations without the problem of birds becoming acclimated, however, netting large areas can be costly and unsightly.”