Battle over bird cannons in Niagara-on-the-Lake
Normal Farm Practices Protection Board to hear complaints in the coming weeks
Residents of a Niagara-on-the-Lake neighbourhood fed up with bird cannons firing off for hours at a time are hoping a provincial board will hear their cries for peace.
Two applications about noise complaints from the use of propane-fired bird cannons are set to be heard by the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board next week and in June.
While cannons have been used in rural areas of Niagara for ages, residents in the York Road area say the two vineyards near their homes are newly established and are negatively impacting the lives of longtime homeowners.
“We’re caught in the crossfire and it has really affected the use and enjoyment of our property,” said James Fisher, who’s lived in his home for 38 years and hears the cannons from both vineyards. “Some days I would really like to have the patio door open and I can’t because of the constant explosive noise.”
Fisher said he can’t use his deck from August to October and has to wear ear protection to go out into the garden.
“It’s just like battlefield conditions here in the fall.”
But agriculture industry advocates say bird cannons are a normal, common farm practice in Niagara and an effective tool for grape growers trying deter birds from picking at crops.
“It’s zoned agricultural. They have every right to plant a crop and protect that crop, providing everything is done according to code,” said Henry Swierenga, a member representative from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture covering Niagara who will be at the board pre-hearings to support the growers.
“There are rules and common sense regulations that would apply. As long as they are being met, I would see no reason not to continue using those bangers.”
Bird cannons, or bangers, are one of a slew of visual, acoustical and physical scarers used by grape growers with various results, including tying shiny ribbons to vines, installing plastic birds, using pulsing light, hanging balloons with scary eyes and firing hand-operated scare pistols.
Mario Pingue, one of the vineyard owners named in an application, said bird cannons have been the most effective technique he’s used.
“I put everything up,” he said. “I put ribbons, I put balloons, I put falcons up flying here and there, but the best is the cannons.”
He said he’s doing his best to work with the government and didn’t want to comment further.
Swierenga said birds become acclimatized to different bird scaring methods and it’s always a struggle for growers to keep the birds out. Even with netting, they can get underneath and face a “smorgasbord,” doing a lot of damage in a big hurry.
He said bird banger complaints are not new and it falls on organizations like OFA to educate the public.
“Generally I find that once we explain the reason for them and the fact they’re not going to be continuing well into the season, there’s a fairly good understanding and acceptance of the fact they do use them.”
But the Niagara-on-the-Lake residents who applied to the board say their noise complaint case is unique because the escarpment amplifies sound.
Marisa Conte, who’s lived in her York Road home for more than 30 years, said she’s getting the blast from the front, back and sideways because of her proximity to the escarpment.
“Every time it went off and I’m outside working, I’d be jumping because you’re not expecting it,” Conte said. “It was like a bomb was exploding right next to you. That’s how awful it was.”
The effect of the escarpment is at the crux of the issue, said Win Laar, who’s lived in her home for 43 years.
Laar said the sound of cannons used on flat table lands make a short-ending “pop” sound, but that’s not the case on the escarpment.
“It echoes. It ricochets,” she said. “We have people more than half a kilometre each side going along the escarpment who are bothered by these. It is totally different than on the flat table lands.”
She said she hears 78 explosions per hour in the fall from half-hour before sunrise to half-hour after sunset.
Laar said a petition with more than 70 signatures from residents asking for the cannon noise to cease was given to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
A pre-hearing conference at the Niagara-on-the-Lake town hall in Virgil will be held by the board on May 23 to hear a complaint about the use of bird cannons at Baker Estate Vineyards on York Road. The pre-hearing will be immediately followed by a settlement conference to attempt to resolve the issues and avoid going to a full hearing.
A second pre-hearing conference is on June 6 and is related to the nearby Pingue vineyard on Sheppard Crescent.
Kirk Walstedt, chair of the board, said in an email that approximately half of the applications received by the board are resolved prior to a hearing.
Birds fly over a vineyard in this file photo. Niagara-on-the-Lake residents are lodging complaints about bird cannons used by wineries to scare off vineyard snackers.