Jul 19, 2021
What’s the best method to scare birds from sweet corn?

Scaring birds out of sweet corn and other crops is not new, based on the centuries-old placement of scarecrows dressed in old clothes (oftentimes filled with straw) in fields. However, there are many newer methods from chemical control to loud noises, to laser beams. There are pros and cons to each method and varied costs as well.

Researchers agree that scare techniques need to be started before the birds find the field, roughly 7 to 10 days before harvest begins. Once red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, starlings, grackles and the like have tasted that delicious, sweet corn, there is no keeping them away.

In 2015-2017, the CCE Cornell Vegetable Program (led by Darcy Telenko) tested four methods of deterring birds from sweet corn fields in 12 on-farm trials: Avian control (chemical), scare-eye balloons, air dancer, and detasseling. The final report is available as a glossy hard-copy from our office or on our website along with a video here.

In summary, over the three years, birds caused an average of 2.8 to 11.5% loss in untreated plots. There was not a significant difference between treatments in individual years. However, when data from the three years was compiled, the scare-eye balloons, air dancer, and detasseling tools all significantly reduced damage when compared to the untreated control. Bird damage was reduced 38% with Avian Control, 63% with balloons, 77% with the air dancer, and 85% with detasseling as compared to the non-treated control. A description of these devices, along with general cost, use recommendations, and limitations is provided in the final project report.

What about lasers?

Learn more by watching the recorded laser scarecrow session from the 2021 Empire State Producers Expo here.

According to R. Brown and D. Brown, University of Rhode Island, research in laser technology to control birds increased rapidly in the 1990’s when laser diodes became commercialized, in combination with increased occurrence of human-bird conflicts (Crop Protection vol 146:105652). While commercial bird deterrents using laser-beams were made available (e.g. Bird Control Group, Carpe Diem Technologies, etc.) these devices range in the thousands of dollars and are made to cover large acreages.

University of Rhode Island Device

Brown and Brown have developed a laser-scarecrow designed for small acreage sweet corn fields that is available for purchase as a kit for $600 (2020-2021 price). As part of a multi-state USDA NIFA specialty crop grant for which I am a co-investigator, I have obtained and constructed 2 of these devices for testing in western NY this year. The kits have numerous small parts and come with very detailed instructions. You can plan on 4 to 6 hours to build one kit. Data from three years of trials from the University of Rhode Island (R. Brown and D. Brown, Crop Protection 146:105652) demonstrated the effectiveness of the device. Using split-plot treatments where half of the field was covered with the 50 mW green laser beam and half was not, the non-treated control sections. The data demonstrates the potential of this technology for deterring birds from sweet corn fields. Improved design and field research is ongoing. For more information, visit here.

Effect of a laser beam treatment on bird damage to sweet corn fields. University of Rhode Island.
Average Number of Damaged Ears
Trial Year Untreated Control Laser Treatment Significance (p-value)*
2017 48.4 14.6 0.0002
2018 23.8 13.7 0.0046
2019 20.3 14.9 0.0332

*A treatment is considered significantly different than the control if this value is 0.05 or less.

Cornell Device

Ali Nafchi, Precision Agriculture Specialist, formerly with the CCE Cornell Vegetable Program (currently at South Dakota State University) developed a laser scare crow of his own design. Five units were constructed in early 2021 as part of a project funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute. Along with Marion Zuefle (NYS IPM) and Chuck Bornt (CCE Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program), I will be testing these devices in commercial fields in New York this summer. Results will be presented at winter meetings and through other outreach avenues. We are working with the University of Rhode Island and with Nafchi to combine the best features of each design.

– Julie Kikkert, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell Vegetable Program

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