Monday, April 29, 2002

Other birds not wise to billboard owl

Ask a Stupid Question

By Mike Pulfer,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Question: “There is a billboard (in Colerain Township) with what appears to be an owl on the top of it. After watching it for 20 minutes, it seemed to move its head; however, as I have passed this billboard every week for a couple of months, the owl is still there and never moved. I presume it is a decoy. Why?”

        Answer: Why, you ask? Have you ever sat under a treeful of sparrows just back from scavenging Metamucil? Apparently not.

        Tom Hess, vice president of sales for Norton Outdoor Advertising, the Columbia Township billboard specialists, says owl decoys are relatively common on outdoor signs.

        “We have at least a half dozen or so that we use in problem areas,” he said.

        Their purpose is “to scare off other birds that have a tendency for lighting on the structure and, how shall I say ... messing things up.”

        “Starlings and pigeons, they like that,” he said.

        What they don't like are owls, which, on the other hand, do like little birds...for breakfast.

        Q: Why are some roosting sites more attractive?

        A: “I'm not sure,” Mr. Hess said. In one case, years ago, Green Township pigeons suffered a “loss of habitat” when a railroad trestle (apparently their favorite spot) was demolished. Many of them found new quarters on a nearby billboard. “There were pigeons galore . . . They had to find other places.”

        Advertisers, it seems, prefer their fine-tuned images (especially food) not be splattered with bird, er, excrement.

        The life-size phony owls are made of plastic and foam core and mounted to the top of message boards on cylinder-shaped pegs that can allow them to swivel.

        As for the moving head, that could have been human imagination at work.

        The letter addressed to Harry Potter was real.

        If you have a stupid question, send it to Ask a Stupid Question by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax: 768-8330; e-mail:


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