Keeping Birds Out of the Berry Crop

4/4/2014

According to Bill Braswell, president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, birds are the biggest problem facing his growers, with bird damage so bad the birds eat most or all of the profits for some growers. He has found repellent sprays, fogging and netting to be helpful, but the high cost and additional labor needed offset most of the benefits. 

Bird Gard uses digital recordings of distressed and alarmed birds, plus the sounds of hawks and falcons played loudly over the top of the crop. The manufacturer said this triggers an instinctive fear and flight response in birds, causing them to leave the area. 

The previous generation of Bird Gard units had a reputation for being effective for a short time before the birds returned. "Our older products played the same sounds in the same order, so the birds soon figured out they were being lied to and soon returned," said Rick Willis, marketing manager with Bird Gard. Willis said a technology upgrade has eliminated the problem of habituation. "A small computer chip now randomizes the order, the time off interval and the pitch of the bird sounds every time they are played, giving the impression there are many birds in distress."

Braswell has used a small Bird Gard unit for the past few years as part of his bird hazing arsenal, which includes cannons, scare eyes, streamers and shotguns. "I'm sure my old Bird Gard helped some, but up to this point, nothing really stood out as being particularly effective," he said. He was presented with the opportunity to try the newest and largest Bird Gard unit free for the entire season. Bird Gard claims the $3,500 Super Pro Amp will effectively protect a circular area up to 1,200 feet in diameter, or 30 acres. Braswell was skeptical but intrigued, and he chose a 30-acre block that has historically had the worst bird pressure.

Braswell said, "I generally have a serious problem with cedar waxwings, because I have oak trees on two sides."

When the Bird Gard Super Pro Amp was first installed, there were already birds feeding in the blueberries, but within two days, there were only a few stragglers hanging around in the single oak tree at the far end of the block. "What few waxwings I saw were highly agitated. It only took a single shotgun blast to scatter them completely," Braswell said. At the same time, he was fielding calls from his association growers. "They were getting hammered by birds and the constant cannon blasts were getting their neighbors up in arms," he said. 

In addition to the technological upgrade, Bird Gard has also changed their product use recommendations. "A lot of growers were using our products as if they were cannons, moving them around a wide area and chasing the birds around the crop. By allowing the birds to remain in a portion of the crop without being directly attacked, they become emboldened and soon learn the sounds are nothing to be feared," said Willis. "If the crop is covered completely by the sounds, the birds leave the area and never get a chance to challenge the threat." Bird Gard units are available in sizes to protect crops from one to 30 acres. "For blocks larger than 30 acres, multiple units are effective. For blocks larger than a few hundred acres, we only need to protect the perimeter, because the sounds go up a few hundred feet and the birds don't fly to the interior," Willis added.

The real test for Braswell was whether the Bird Gard unit would maintain its effectiveness all the way through the harvest. "Every day or so we will see these large swirling flocks flying high over the crop, but as soon as the Bird Gard unit goes off they scatter like their tails are on fire. They never have a chance to get into the berries," said Braswell. Is Bird Gard the solution to keeping birds out of blueberries? "There is no magic bullet when it comes to keeping birds out," said Braswell, "but this new Bird Gard unit is by far the most effective bird deterrent I have found.  With Bird Gard, I don't have to waste labor chasing birds, and I don't worry anymore about losing my crop to birds."

For more information, visit www.birdgard.com.