Birds of a Feather

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

Red-Winged Blackbird (Male)

from the birds. The quantity of manure produced by thousands of birds is significant.

"The droppings go through the combine, through the grain bins and to the mill," Riley said. "The mill turns down your crop. One farmer had 30,000 bushels turned down."

A contaminated crop can be run through a seed cleaner, but that eats into already slim profits.

Riley said farmers try everything to startle the birds and move them out of the area, from using propane cannons to driving around the field shooting bottle rockets or shotguns. He recognizes that scaring the birds away isn't a solution because it just moves the problem to the neighbor's place, but "that's all you can do," he said.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Wildlife Services is the government agency charged with resolving bird issues.

"When we are called with bird problems, we talk to the individual to find out exactly what the problem is and what species is causing the problem," said Ed Hartin, Missouri State Director for APHIS. "We then give recommendations on how they can legally respond to the conflict they are facing. We let them know all of the options, starting with nonlethal all the way up to lethal removal."

Controls include frightening devices, altering habitat, cultural controls (for example, planting corn with tight husks), trapping, seed treatment repellents, and poisoning. APHIS continually searches for more effective control methods.

Most damage control done by APHIS is non-lethal, according to an article by Ted Williams, in the November 2001 issue of Audubon. An APHIS plan in the Dakotas to poison millions of red-winged blackbirds that were feasting on the sunflower crop drew pressure because of the danger to non-target birds. Also because they migrate, the birds poisoned would probably not be the same birds that would damage the crops later in the season.

Hartin said that blackbirds hit Missouri rice farmers hardest. In 1999, our farmers lost an estimated $4.8 million out of a total yield of about $55.69 million to blackbird depredation. Corn farmers lost $1.5 million out of $482.3 million. Wheat and milo crops also sustain losses each year, as do livestock and poultry operations in lost feed.

Farmers aren't the only ones troubled by blackbird and starling flocks. City and suburban dwellers find them a nuisance and attack the problem in a variety of ways.

"My first memory is a bunch of the neighbors going out with pan lids and banging them together,"

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