Charleston lawyer and friend create device designed to repel nuisances
If you are a bird, please stop reading this right now.
OK. Assuming all birds now have turned the page, it can be told: The WhirlyBird is NOT a peregrine falcon.
But birds that don't know better apparently mistake a WhirlyBird's wobbly twirling, reflected light patterns and oscillating, clacking sound patterns for the predatory falcon, according to the device's co-inventor, Charleston attorney Rob Turkewitz.
Turkewitz, 50, of James Island and friend Bud Doty of Edisto Island, created their first "simple, safe and effective repellers of nuisance birds" about two years ago by cutting up plastic juice bottles. They experimented with a number of prototypes mounted atop poles, settled on a design and patented it. Turkewitz has since bought out his partner and has sold 2,000 WhirlyBirds locally and worldwide.
Now manufactured in Mount Pleasant and consisting mostly of clear, UV-resistant custom-made plastic bearing multiple images of falcon eyes, the WhirlyBird sells for about $50. Turkewitz said his wife, Deborah, includes a small bag of candy in Whirlybird shipments "because customer service is really important."
WhirlyBirds are popping up all over the Lowcountry, on Coast Guard docks and private piers, and in vineyards and other crop fields. The device requires only the wind and sunlight to persuade birds to take their droppings and their appetites elsewhere, Turkewitz said.
"It's very simple. The slightest breeze gets it going," he added.
He said he tested the device's durability by driving his car 75 mph with a WhirlyBird held out a window.
Turkewitz said the WhirlyBird came about from his and Doty's efforts to repel unwanted birds from their docks. Fake owls and scarecrows and devices that emit sounds all eventually fail to work because "birds become accustomed to them," he said.
The WhirlyBird wobbles somewhat as it spins, discharging ever-changing patterns of sound and reflected light. "It's almost like a kaleidoscope," he explained.
Some 50-60 WhirlyBirds are used to protect the 11 acres of grapes cultivated at Irvin-House Vineyards on Bears Bluff Road on Wadmalaw Island, according to vineyard manager Jay MacMurphy.
WhirlyBirds, he said, keep away crows and other birds and even raccoons that would feast on the grape crop. "We put them up every 40 feet, in a grid pattern," MacMurphy said of the WhirlyBirds.
He said WhirlyBirds are mostly held out of the vineyards until mid-August, when the grapes begin to ripen, because the vineyard benefits in spring and most of the summer from bluebirds. The business provides homes for bluebirds, which eat lots of insects that can damage the crop, he explained.
MacMurphy called the WhirlyBird "ingenious," especially considering it "started from a Gatorade bottle."
"They are very effective, or we wouldn't spend the time putting them up if they weren't," he added.
MacMurphy said he uses WhirlyBirds at home, where he has ponds, and the devices "keep the egrets from eating the fish."
Arthur Jenkins, senior pastor at St. James Episcopal Church on Camp Road on James Island, said a WhirlyBird has been the answer to the church's ministry center's prayers. For almost five years, he said, crows and other birds had been regularly flying into a large panel of glass panes near the top of the center.
"It had been very distracting, especially during prayer or singing," Jenkins said.
Since a WhirlyBird was installed recently outside the glass, few birds find their way to it, he said.
And birds aren't the only creatures that should be concerned.
"I've got something in the hopper for squirrels and deer," Turkewitz said.
For information, visit whirly birdrepeller.com or call 762-3154.
Reach Edward C. Fennell at [email protected] or 937-5560.