Bird Damage in Crops: It’s More Than a Nuisance

There’s almost nothing that will get farmers talking more than a discussion of tricks to get birds out of their fields. The economic damage can be significant and the old fashioned scarecrow doesn’t really work.  Fortunately, there is a hopper seed treatment that can help NY farmers take back control of their fields.

Crows, ravens, black birds, starlings, grackles, Canada geese and wild turkeys have long been a problem for some corn growers in New York. The birds arrive as the corn is planted and many linger until the field is stripped bare. While loss varies field by field, some estimates are as high as 15% an acre.

At Farm Viability’s annual meeting in November, grower Douglas Purinton with Elm Tree Farm in Norway New York reported losing 24 newly-planted acres in two days. Over the years he explored many tactics, including planting the seed deeper, but in wet years the seed would rot before it could emerge. Guns and other noisemakers, aluminum pans, and hanging dead crows were all proven to be ineffective. He even confessed to resorting to a delayed planting schedule, hoping the birds would dine on neighboring fields and depart. Instead they saw his fields as dessert. 

That’s why when he was asked to participate in an on-farm research trial evaluating a bird deterrent, his response was an emphatic “yes!”

The seed treatment tested, Avipel ShieldTM, is manufactured by Arkion Life Sciences, LLC. and has been in use in the Midwest since 2006. It is a non-toxic seed treatment that is designed to deter birds from feeding on corn seed. The active ingredient is anthraquinone, a chemical found in many species of plants, most notably rhubarb. When birds ingest treated seeds it gives them an upset stomach and they choose to dine elsewhere.  It has also been used in liquid form on grass at airports to deter geese.

Ken Wise with the Integrated Pest Management at Cornell received a 2018 Farm Viability grant to evaluate the treated seed.  His project, which was also supported by the New York Corn Growers Association, was trialed on more than 16 fields across Eastern, Central, and Northern New York. 

The research found that there was a statistically significant difference in plant populations in plots using treated seed, even in fields that typically experienced high levels of bird damage. Although the plots with treated seed had more plants, it is interesting to note that they did not produce higher yields.

Growers believed that the birds felt the effect of the product and abandoned the fields—both the treated and untreated plots– much earlier than they would have done previously.  They reported that the fields included in the trials had “higher yields than they ever have.” In fact, many of the farms participating in the research hoped to begin using the treated seed after the first year.

More than 750 growers and agricultural industry professionals have been reached through the outreach efforts of the team.  Additionally, a peer-reviewed research paper was published by Paul Curtis and the research team in the journal Crop Protection.

In his final report, Wise said, “I think one of the success stories of this project is that farmers, extension educators, and faculty all worked together to conduct the research needed to see if this bird repellent worked at protecting newly-planted corn seed. In total, we had 12 people working together, each doing their part to make the project successful. Among everyone on the project we likely clocked hundreds of hours planting, conducting plant population counts, capturing observations of fields, and evaluating the harvest. Research cooperation paid off!”