Inventor offers cure for courthouse birds

By: Gus thomson journal staff writer
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An Auburn inventor is offering a customized version of his “Skunkerator” to keep swallows from returning to the Placer County Courthouse. Bill Carpenter is giving a hoot about the county’s swallow challenge and willing to give a few of his tricked out Skunkerators to the county in an attempt to curb nesting there next year. The county spent $36,000 on netting installation over the winter at the Old Town Auburn courthouse. But the birds – who have been nesting in the 111-year-old landmark’s eaves for more than 100 years – are back again this year after their annual migration from South America. Undaunted by the netting, they’re finding other courthouse nooks and crannies to build their nests and start their families. Carpenter, whose inventions have included the Powerstrip Saver, Glovelock Tabs and Envirocycle septic system cleaner as well as the Skunkerator Electronic Pest Repellent, said he sees a challenge when he hears of the failed attempts by the county to steer swallows elsewhere. The Migratory Bird Act bans any physical violence against the birds. “This isn’t about shooting, poisoning or trapping the birds,” Carpenter said. “This is psychological warfare.” The Skunkerator uses recorded sound cues from predators to create the fear response in skunks. The battery-powered device uses a sound chip to broadcast the noises and is timed to repeat them every 15 minutes. Carpenter said he has found the device to be a success in scaring off skunks and with a few adjustments for swallows, it could be effective at the courthouse and other swallow-nest magnets. The reworked Skunkerator – dare it be called a Swallowrator – includes the sound of a predatory owl screeching, and distress calls from a rabbit and a skunk. The new device includes a plastic picture of an owl but Carpenter said it would really be the sound that would cause the birds to flee. Two red LED lights replicate the flashing eyes of the owl and attract the birds’ attention, he said. Jim Durfee, county facility services director, said it would be inappropriate to put controls – including electronic swallow deterrents – in place while the swallows were nesting. The nets were installed and the nests removed after the birds had left last fall. U.S. law allows them to be washed down during that time. The county’s addition of netting hasn’t pleased everyone. The swallows are seen by Linda Lareau, owner of nearby Courthouse Coffee, as a tourist attraction and pleasing reminder of nature in the middle of the city. Durfee has said that the attempt to keep the swallows from nesting revolves around preserving the building and public health concerns because of droppings and insects. Visiting from Italy, Mauro Bignami looked up Tuesday at the birds darting among the statuary and cornices of the brick courthouse. He wondered if there were controls for pigeons but had no problems with the swallows. In the central Italian city of Ancona, where Bignami lives, they use low-voltage electric wires and netting to keep the pigeons from roosting, he said. “I love swallows,” he said. “In my building there are six nests. Swallows help keep bugs away so we don’t do anything about them.” Auburn resident Bill Radakovitz said he doubted man’s ingenuity could defeat the swallows’ resolve to stay put. “I’d be amazed if they come up with something,” Radakovitz said. “It seems like they’re mentally tuned into the building.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at