EAST MANATEE — Haile Middle School officials knew they had to do something when vultures began to swoop in and peck at pigs that agricultural students kept on the campus.
The birds, which are predators, had been attracted by a nearby landfill and had become a nuisance at the school.
School district officials employed an experimental weapon to drive the huge birds away: The smell of grape bubble gum, better-known by its scientific name, methyl anthranilate.
“Methyl anthranilate in a vapor affects a nerve in the bird located in the beak, eyes and throat,” said Jeff Norris, president of Nuisance Wildlife Removal Inc., an Ellenton firm the school district hired to handle the problem.
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“It’s like a dentist hitting a nerve in your tooth,” he said. “It’s temporary, goes away almost immediately, and has no effect on people or pets.”
Vultures hate the stuff, and won’t roost anywhere near it.
They flew the coop.
“It definitely helped out,” said Will Lambert, supervisor of grounds maintenance for the Manatee County School District, which contracted with Norris’ company to solve the bird problem at the school, at 9501 State Road 64 E.
Methyl anthranilate naturally occurs in Concord grapes as well as in other fruits and flowers, such as lemons, oranges, gardenias and jasmine. It is used for flavoring candy, soft drinks and gum, among other things.
The brand name of the scented bird repellent is Rejex-It, which was misted on the school grounds to discourage roosting, said Norris.
After a month of use, Norris’ company Friday finally halted its use at Haile, the only school in the district where the product has been used, according to Lambert.
Now, he is considering its potential in solving other bird-related problems.
Perhaps it also might keep pigeons away from school stadiums?
“This might be a great way to go to keep birds away from those areas,” Lambert said.
“There’s only so many things we can do from a ethical humane standpoint to keep these birds away from the learning environment,” he added. “You can’t have someone shooting guns on the property.”
Sara Kennedy, Bradenton Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908.