March 2019 - 9

Controls curtail bird damage in sweet corn
By Dean Peterson
VGN Correspondent
Sweet corn fields nearing harvest
hold much promise - for birds as well
as growers.
" We asked our sweet corn growers
what is their biggest pest issue. Eightyfour
percent said birds, " said Marion
Zuefle, Cornell University vegetable
integrated pest management Extension
area educator. Zuefle was a speaker in the
sweet corn session of the recent Great
Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market
EXPO in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
" Not only are birds coming in and
feeding, they're putting droppings
everywhere and that's a food safety
concern, " Zuefle said. " Most of our
growers are fresh market. They sell
sweet corn at a roadside stand and
contamination is a big issue. "
Four methods of bird control were
recently evaluated in a three-year study
at Cornell. The methods are a chemical
deterrent, balloons with scary eyes, an
air dancer and de-tasseling.
Avian Control Bird Repellent was
the chemical deterrent. The active
ingredient, methyl anthranilate, is a
grape seed extract. " The birds feed on it
and it causes irritation in their mouths
and eyes, and they'll fly away, " Zuefle
said.
Methyl
MARION ZUEFLE
anthranilate
must be
applied
two weeks
before
harvest and
before the
birds find
the sweet
corn and
start to
feed. It must be re-applied every six to
eight days or sooner if it rains. It has a
four-hour re-entry interval (REI) and a
zero preharvest interval (PHI). " A zero
PHI is good for fresh market growers, "
Zuefle said.
Balloons with scary eyes and attached
tails or strings move in the wind and
imitate the image of a predatory bird.
They're inexpensive, mounted on stakes
and easy to move. " Birds are smart, "
Zuefle said. " They get used to what's
going on in a field so control measures
need to be moved around. "
An air dancer is an inflatable figure
made from a tall, brightly-colored, air
tube. It rapidly and repeatedly deflates
and re-inflates on a pre-set timing and
the random movement scares birds.
An air dancer requires a generator or
other source of electricity. " The power
source is a big issue, " Zuefle said.
De-tasseling involves cutting off the
sweet corn's tassel and upper leaves after
pollination. " It's to prevent the birds
from perching, " Zuefle said. " They like
to perch on the tassel but not down on
the leaves. "
De-tasseling is labor intensive
if done manually and mechanized
options are expensive.
The study results were strongly
impacted by bird behavior. The redwinged
blackbird had by far the highest
numbers of any bird observed at the
study sites and appeared in flocks
numbering in the hundreds of birds.
" When red-winged blackbirds start
flocking, it means they've stopped
breeding and are eating before
migration, " Zuefle said.
The overwhelming numbers of
blackbirds settled on multiple plots
at the same time and the differences
between control methods were often
not statistically significant.
However, once deterrent tools were
placed in a plot, birds tended to avoid
the research site and look for other
sweet corn fields. The damage in some
of the off-site sweet corn fields ranged
from 15 to 50 percent and was much
higher than the damage in the study's
untreated plots.
" Our growers are very excited about
these tools, " Zuefle said. " They plan
to use one, two or all of them - even
though our conclusions weren't all
that clear. "
Control tactics must be put in place
before the birds arrive. " Once they find
the food source, it's hard to get them to
move, " Zuefle said. VGN
Air dancers are used to discourage birds
from entering crop areas.
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March 2019

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