Bird season never over for growers

Now that spring has passed and given way to summer heat waves, it’s easy to think that a grower’s only concern is drought. Unfortunately, just because birds have finished their migration back north does not mean that we can forget about them. Bird control is an issue that growers must address year-round to ensure a good profit. Birds have a knack for snacking on crops. Their droppings spread disease and cause equipment to rot away, but how bad can it really get?

Down on the farm

Rob Johanson of Goranson Farm in Dresden, Maine, knows that when birds decide to call your farm home, it means trouble. “A flock of 100 seasonal crows can do immense damage in a short amount of time,” he says. He counts on harvesting up to 12,000 ears of corn per acre. Crows, or any other pest birds, that decide to ravage a crop can prevent a serious farmer, no matter what size the farm, from being able to support his family. Bill Ingersoll of Wisconsin has a much larger farm than Johanson; however, he faced the same problem when birds would peck at his corn—even when they didn’t eat the whole crop. Grackles, starlings, blackbirds and more loved to nibble just the tops of the ears, making them a lost cause. He says, “When people pay retail, they want perfect corn. The visual appeal is as important to them as the taste. It’s the reality of my marketplace.” While these two farmers’ main harvest product is corn, fruit growers face the same problem. Sweet crops that are just coming into season in the summer, like grapes, peaches or even apples, will attract birds as well.  Finally, distributors of crops also lose money to birds. Walking away from farmstands for just a few minutes can leave their fruits and vegetables vulnerable to bird attacks—and customers simply won’t buy products that have been picked at and aren’t top-quality.

Birds also pose threats and cost growers and distributors money in less conspicuous ways.  Because of the constant food source, birds will look to roost in nearby structures such as homes, warehouses and barns. The droppings that they leave behind in these areas pose a serious health and safety risk to humans and animals alike. Birds and their droppings are hosts to over 60 diseases. Horses, in particular, are at risk for contracting viral equine encephalitis or equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM). Bird droppings that fall into the animal’s food or water sources provide easy and direct disease transmission. Other diseases such as histoplasmosis are most easily contracted by humans. The spores of the droppings are often breathed in by a person as they are cleaning bird droppings away.

Goranson Farm in Dresden, Maine, knows that when birds decide to call your farm home, it means trouble.

Not surprisingly, if the birds find a good place to roost you may find yourself with a year-round, or at the very least, an annual returning guest. Birds are creatures of habit and will consistently return to a location as long as it is favorable to them. A barn, for example, will always be bird-friendly if left as is. Even in the winter, the birds will have warmth and can feed off of the food and water you leave for your farm animals. Of course, they will leave their bird droppings all over the barn as well. Besides harming the animals, these droppings can ruin equipment. Bird droppings are acidic and if left standing, can actually rot through materials. Machinery such as tractors or even buildings themselves have been known to be deemed unusable due to corrosion from bird droppings. Buying new equipment and having to rebuild a barn due to some nuisance birds is not cost-effective. Structures on your property, including the popular summer season outdoor distribution stands, have just as much need for bird control as the actual crops do.

No quick fix

Indeed, the lists of bird problems seem endless. The USDA has conducted research on the issue of bird infestation, as they are aware that bird excrement carries a number of “pathogenic organisms and presents a hazard.” The USDA’s April 2007 study on the control of roosting birds summary stated: “In our research, especially in discussions with experts in the field of wildlife management, our most important conclusion was that there is no single solution that is appropriate for all locations.” The trick to solving a bird infestation is to find a solution that works best for your particular situation.

The easiest way to eliminate birds is to remove the objects or environmental factors that attract the birds in the first place. Growers have to be a bit craftier in their bird control methods, as they cannot remove their crops. Shooting the birds is an alternative, but it is only a temporary fix. It is a time-consuming practice, and there will always be more birds to move in to take the place of the ones you manage to kill. It is best to make fields and buildings uninviting to birds.

One thing to remember is that no matter the situation, it’s always best to employ humane and eco-friendly methods of bird control. Growers, especially organic growers, have to consider the standards of the industry and the safety of their consumers. Using a poison or other lethal method of bird control should be avoided. The risk factor of lethal products accidentally seeping into the crops is too large.

In the case of corn farmers Johanson and Ingersoll, sonic bird deterrents were the perfect fix. They first installed visual scare devices such as plastic owls and balloons with scary eyes. When the bird problem persisted, Ingersoll tried cannon blasts before moving on to a sonic repeller, which plays recordings of bird distress calls. Johanson adopted the sonic repeller in addition to his balloons to effectively keep the birds away. There are many other products available and it may take a period of trial and error to find the right ones. Spikes, lasers and taste aversions are a few other methods. A synergy of strategies often turns out to be the best solution for both indoor and outdoor spaces. Birds are smart and can quickly become immune to a deterrent if it is repetitive. Using multiple deterrents, and changing or moving them, will be the most successful in keeping birds away long-term. While it is summer, and the pesky birds are no doubt already settled in, it’s not too late to implement bird aversion tactics. Make the place uncomfortable, and the birds will leave.

F. Kathleen Oprian is a media relations correspondent for Bird-X, Inc.