Evaluation of Novel Bird Repellants in Vegetable Crops

Final Report for ONE15-249

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,908.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Darcy Telenko
Purdue University
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Project Information


Bird damage is a persistent problem for vegetable producers. In an attempt to help our growers mitigate this pest we evaluated novel bird repellents on four vegetable farms in western New York. In this pilot project year the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell Vegetable Program found the chemical deterrent Avian Control (methyl anthranilate, $36/A per application done within 1 week of harvest at 6-8 day intervals), an “air-dancer ($200 per dancer and $400 for generator),” and scare-eye balloons ($10/balloon and 3 per site) successfully dissuaded birds at all farms increasing yield 1 to 19% with an average increase return of $22-$418/A.  The participating farms were excited about the potential of these deterrents in reducing their losses from bird damage and will be adopting one or more of the strategies and support future evaluations to refine the best management tactics.

During the season, we monitored bird activity around sweet corn fields to identify best locations for placement of the deterrents, once trials were established we indexed bird activity based on number of bird droppings in each field, crop maturity, and ear damage.  The most common birds we noted in the sweet corn fields were the common black bird, red-winged black bird, starlings, grackles and swallows.

Initial results were presented at a twilight field day.  The results of this project were presented at eight winter meetings, including the 2016 NY State Producers Expo. In addition, the results were presented at the First Online Conference of the NE IPM and on the Farm Hour radio show.


Avian pests continue to plague fresh market vegetable producers. Sweet corn is noted to have greatest direct damage by birds, but other crops are also impacted - including the consumption of direct-seeded crops after planting, reduced quality from pecking, loss of crops stands by direct feeding, and implications with future food safety rules. Since our producers have indicated that bird damage in sweet corn is one of their biggest management issues, this research will focus on mitigating bird pests in sweet corn, but the information generated by this research may provide for use in other fresh market vegetable commodities with avian pests.

Fresh market sweet corn was planted on over 23,000 acres in NY in 2013, with an estimated value in production of $78 million ($3,391/A). A recent survey of fresh market vegetable growers in western NY found that 66% grew sweet corn on an average of 3.4 acres (0.1 acre to >20 acres). Of those growers 84% reported that they had bird damage with a 16% average estimated yield loss to birds (losses ranged from 3 to 40%). A loss of 3% has the potential to cost $102 in production/acre, 16% loss reduces value $542 per acre, and growers experiencing a 40% yield reduction may lose over $1300/A. The severity of damage caused by birds will vary depending on location, maturity of sweet corn, and bird migration. In New York we continue to see this pest problem grow and it is exceedingly more costly and much harder to handle. One farmer states he “had problems from the day seed hit the ground,” while a single farm reported a loss of over 5,000 dozen ears -a location where multiple tactics are currently being utilized (nuisance permits and gas-fired cannons), and another reported a $1,500 loss for this season. The variability in effectiveness of current options, the continued loss of fresh market sweet corn to bird damage and future food safety issues demonstrates the need for the continued research to identify and evaluate other options that may prove to be more effective in managing bird pests.

Project Objectives:

Four on-farm demonstration trials were set-up in sweet corn to evaluate the bird repellants. Two farms were located in Eden, NY, one in Ransomville, NY and the fourth in Belfast, NY. All farms assisted in observing bird migration, sweet corn maturity and application of the chemical deterrent treatments on their farm (table 1).

At each location bird activity was monitored starting July 7. The number and identity of birds flying in and out of the field locations were enumerated between two and eight times at participating farms, which was dependent on crop maturity and bird migration. Digital images were captured when possible.

Crop maturity at each field location was determined by counting the number out of 100 ears that had brown silk and then determining a score based on a scale of 3< 34% silk brown, 4=34-66% silk brown, and 5=67-100%. Ear damage was recorded by counting the number of ears damaged and number of kernels damaged from 10 ears in 20 locations within each treatment plot. Maturity and damage data was collected at least eight times at each farm during the trials. Images of bird activity and damage were documented (figure 1 and 2).

Figure 1.  A flock of red-winged black birds after being scared out of sweet corn plots at Amos Zittel & Sons Farm on July 23, 2015. Photo credit Darcy Telenko. Figure 1. A flock of red-winged black birds after being scared out of sweet corn plots at Amos Zittel & Sons Farm on July 23, 2015. Photo credit Darcy Telenko.


Figure 2. An example of bird droppings on sweet corn and the damage caused by bird feeding. Photo credit Darcy Telenko. Figure 2. An example of bird droppings on sweet corn and the damage caused by bird feeding. Photo credit Darcy Telenko.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • David Agle
  • Andy Byler
  • Robert Hadad
  • Jeffery Hurtgam
  • Mark Zittel


Materials and methods:

Table 1

To assess the effectiveness of new bird repellants in reducing damage in sweet corn four, on-farm demonstration trials were set up to simulate actual farm use. The location of the sites and plot size was determined by the number of available sweet corn acres on each farm (J. Hurtgam Farms, Randsomeville, NY; Henry W. Agle & Sons, Eden, NY; Amos Zittel & Sons, Eden, NY; and Andy Byler, Belfast, NY). At each sites three treatments were evaluated in large demonstration plots

1. Untreated check;

2. Avian Control (methyl anthranilate) 32 oz/A applied at the first migration of bird and reapplied on a 6-8 day interval;

3. Mylar helium filled hawk balloons 3 per/acre.

A fourth treatment using an air dancer were tested at two sites, due to cost limitations of grant we were able to fund two air-dancers to evaluate. Treatments began at the first noted migration of bird and will be separated by at least 100 feet to eliminate border effects (see table 1 for timeline of actions, treatments and ratings).   

Data collection included:

  1. Monitoring bird activity starting at the silking stage of sweet corn. Three- minute observations and digital photos were taken 25-50 m from field. Counts of the total number of blackbirds, starlings or others detected were recorded at each location.
  2. Determining crop maturity. Starting in early July for six weeks, 100 ears from each sweet corn planting area will be averaged to determine crop maturity on a scale 3≤ 33% silk brown, 4=34-66% silk brown, and 5 = 67- 100% silk brown. This will help determine if certain maturity levels differentially attract birds.
  3. Index bird activity –at each treatment in of each of four locations.
    1. Counts of number of bird droppings on adjacent corn plants in 20 locations per treatment plot. Counts will be taken from plants and on the ground extending to middles of row on each side.
    2. Ear damage will be recorded from 10 ears in 20 locations within each treatment plot. Number of ears damaged and number of kernels damaged will be recorded.
  4. Number of ears damaged at each harvest will be determined from each plot at each location and % loss of yield was determined.
  5. A post-trial survey was conducted cooperators (Jeffry Hurtgam, David Agle, Mark Zittel and Andy Byler) to determine their thoughts on utility of treatments, perceived effectiveness, and future uses.

Data was analyzed from the four on-farm locations to determine if any of the treatments provide consistent management option for reducing avian damage. Analysis included a cost-benefit evaluation for each of the treatments.

Research results and discussion:


  1. Met with four cooperating farmer (Mark Zittel, David Agle, Jeffery Hurtgam and
    Andy Byler) in June to discuss project. We identified the location, planting dates and projected harvest dates of sweet corn fields at each participating farm on July 7 at Zittel and Agle farms and July 13 at Hurtgam and Byler farms.
  2. Monitored bird activity starting at the silking stage to detect first migration of the birds on July 7 at Zittel and Agle farms and July 13 at Hurtgam and Byler farms.
  3. Determined locations to set-up treatments, mark areas in field and collaborated with the individual grower to apply foliar sprays of Avian Control, Mylar hawk eye balloons and air-dancers (were able to purchase two to trial at Hurtgam and Zittel Farms since Avian chemical was donated by chemical company). Initial treatments were applied on July 13 at Byler farm, July 22 at Hurtgam farm and July 23 at Zittel and Agle farms.
  4. Set-up spray plan with each grower to reapply the Avian Control. Each farm was only able to get Avian out twice before harvest. After the initial treatments the growers observed successful deterrence of birds and wanted to continue testing in additional fields. We ended up running three trials at Zittel’s, one trial at Agle’s with an additional data collected from an untreated field, two trials at Hurtgam’s and two trials at Byler’s.
  5. Data collection for bird activity began on July 7 and 13, and crop maturity and damage started July 13 and continued weekly through harvest. Each farm was visited eight to 10 times during the growing season with a total of 35 individual collection dates.
  6. The final harvest dates were August 10 at Agle’s, August 18 at Hurtgam and Byler’s, and August 19 at Zittel’s.
  7. The four growers were initially surveys on their experiences in August. A formal survey was completed with each grower in April.
  8. Final data analysis completed in February.
  9. Develop educational outreach material for dissemination to growers –a research update factsheet was created and presented at a Fresh Market Vegetable Twilight meeting in Eden, NY on August 19 (see attachment), by Darcy Telenko with over 25 participants. In addition Darcy Telenko presented a five-minute update on the initial results at the NEIPM First Online Conference on October 20, 2015. A video of this conference is available at http://neipmc.org/go/fEhT

Additional educational outreach were accomplished in January and February as a topic in the sweet corn session at the 2016 Empire State Produce Expo and at winter fresh market meetings.

Research conclusions:

Initial bird damage was high, 86% of ripe sweet corn ears were damaged overnight at one location. Seven percent damage was recorded where other tactics were being deployed – air cannon and nuisance permit. Data gathered from the four participating farms found untreated plots experienced two to 30% damage (Tables 3-5). Bird activity was monitored at each site. The average flock size ranged from 10 to 32 birds, with maximum flocks ranging from 27 to 100 birds (Table 2). The most common birds we noted in the sweet corn fields were the common black bird, red-winged black bird, starlings, grackles and swallows. Crop maturity at the farms ranged from 43 to 100% brown silk during first noted bird movement into the fields and yield loss ranged from 2 to 25% loss in harvestable sweet corn ears where treatments were not applied (Table 2). 

Tables 2, 3, 4, and 5

Amos Zittel & Son’s Farm (Table 3). Birds activity was monitored at Zittel farms starting July 7 and were first noted causing damage on July 23. At that point treatments were initiated, but already 86% damage was recorded in their first picking. Avian control was applied using a high boy sprayer. The average number of bird droppings was highest in the untreated (3.7/100 plants) and lowest with the scare-eye balloon (Table 3). The untreated had 2% yield loss, Avian Control applied twice at 32 oz/A 0.5%, and both scare-eye balloon and air-dance 0% yield loss. The grower commented that the birds were staying out the field and wondered if we could move to test in other locations around farm. Two more locations were established with an emphasis in looking at the Avian control, again 32 oz/A were applied twice. At both these locations (1 and 2) the number of bird droppings was variable, but Avian Control increased harvestable ears 2.0 and 6.0% over the untreated at each location, respectively. 

Henry W. Agle & Sons (Table 4). Bird activity was monitored at the Agle farm starting July 7 and treatments were applied on July 23 when birds were noted moving into the sweet corn. At this location we only evaluated the Avian control and scare-eye balloons. Both the scare-eye balloon and Avian Control (32 oz/A) (applied with high boy sprayer) saw a decreased number of droppings per 100 plants and a slight increase in harvestable ears over untreated (Avian Control 1.5% and scare-eye balloon 2.5%). The cooperator noted that in the trial location he only found 6 damages ears in the entire 2 acres where the treatments were applied (approximated 5,000 ears picked). They commented that the birds were flying over the ripe ears at this location and feeding on a different field where he has deployed an air cannon and nuisance permits at this second location they experience 10% yield loss from the birds. We examined this location and noted 100 birds, 17 droppings/100 plants, and 7.0% damage of corn yet to be harvested (Table 2).

Andy Byler Farm (Table 4). Bird activity was monitored at the Byler farm starting July 7 and the cooperator noted first birds around July 13 and initiated the Avian Control application using a handheld sprayer. This cooperator commented that the Avian Control caused the bird to go away, but a few still returned, then left and none came back. He felt it was really working to keep the birds at bay. At this location we had the highest number of bird droppings from a small flock that seemed to remain at this location (15-27 birds). In the trial we noted that Avian Control improved yield 1.2% over untreated and the scare-eye balloon increased harvestable ears 2.7%. The grower noted from picking that in his untreated sweet corn he experienced 75% ear damage, while in the Avian treated plots only 25% damage.

J Hurtgam Farm (Table 5). Bird activity was monitored at the Hurtgam farm starting July 13 and first noted bird activity on July 22. All four treatments were placed on July 22. Avian Control was applied using an air-blast sprayer by the cooperator. In the first field treatments were initiated only 8 days prior to harvest. Bird droppings ranged from 16.5 to 8.0 per 100 plants and yield loss 4.0 to 10.5 %. The Avian Control treatment had the worst damage with 10.5 % of the ears damaged.  The grower wanted to try again and put out the treatments earlier, the second trial initiated treatments more than two weeks prior to ripe ears. In this second trial both the Avian Control and the air-dancer increased marketable ears by 17 and 19%, respectively.

Across all farms the average harvestable sweet corn ears were increased 4.2% with two applications of Avian Control and the air-dancer will work on small scale 9% increased yield compared to untreated plots. Avian Control and the “air-dancer” successfully dissuaded birds at all farms increasing yield 1 to 19% with an average value of $22-$418/A. Success was highly dependent on application timing, placement, and crop maturity.

Impacts of research: The preliminary data collect during this project allowed us to pursue other funding opportunities and we recently received 2016/17 funding to expand this research by the NY Farm Viability Institute. All cooperators on this project have indicated use of one or more of these tactics in the future as they felt the treatments were helping to minimize bird damage in their sweet corn.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Data from the four on-farm trials were analyzed and compiled. Initial results were presented at a twilight field day on August 19 in Eden, NY where 25 growers were in attendance (see attached PDF of the one-page summary).  The results of this project were presented at eight winter meetings, including the 2016 NY State Producers Expo, reaching over 470 growers. In addition, the results were presented at the First Online Conference of the NE IPM on October 20 and on the Farm Hour radio show on October 19, 2015.

  NESARE Bird Project Update August 2015 NESARE Bird Project Update August 2015

Telenko Sweet Corn 2016 Bird PPT

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

We estimated from the data we collected that Avian Control and the “air-dancer” successfully dissuaded birds at all farms increasing yield 1 to 19% with an average value of $22-$418/A. Success was highly dependent on application timing, placement, and crop maturity.

Farmer Adoption

Cooperating vegetable producers were excited about the initial results and support future research to further refine best management practices for bird control and expansion to determine if some of the tactics, such as the air-dancer, can be used for other wildlife deterrence. The cooperating farms plan to implement one or a few of the techniques in future seasons.

Amos Zittel & Son’s Farm – we did not have the damage as seen in previous years. The air-dancer we like the reusability of it, shutting off the generator at night is a pain, so if solar power would be great option. They still see use of nuisance permits best option if they can consistently monitor fields, which proves hard at times. The Avian Control seems to work, would like to know more about the best timing and can it be applied with their last insect spray to save an extra trip across the field. The price ($36/A per application) is a bit pricey compared to other pesticides ($15/A for insect spray), but if it saves $1000’s of damage it would be a good investment.  The scare-eye balloon don’t work for their scale of operation –would need many more. They also use propane guns, but now with noise ordinances they have become a pain to shut off as well.

J Hurtgam Farm – liked how the air-dancer seemed to deter a wider area vs. the scare-eye balloons, the chemical deterrent covered larger area and is quickly applied. He will probably look to use both the air-dancer and avian control in the future on this farm. He saw an improved return as damage especially from treated plots remained less than

Andy Byler Farm - noted that birds were bad this summer. The balloons and the Avian Control seem to work. After spraying the majority of the birds that were damaging my crop went away, a few came back, then left and not come back.  In regards to Avian he stated “it works!”  The scare-eye balloons have also been very useful on my farm and I will continue to use them.

Henry W. Agle & Sons – We will continue to use Avian control – it seems to protect the ear where we need the protection, “maintenance free” application covering the entire field. We saw significant yield boost due to reduced damage where the treatments were applied compared to other fields. Each tactic has its pros and cons – Avian is a bit pricey, as is the air-dancer. Power to the air-dancer is an issue –solar would be best but significantly raises costs at this point in time. Like using electric or solar power source if available – gas generators require daily monitoring.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Deer deterrents in lettuce.

Timing of avian control – we saw a late application had no effect on the damage, but when we attempted the treatment in another location at an earlier timing there was much better results. Therefore, would like to see research to make more timely applications based on crop maturity and maybe less on current bird movement.

Battery operated motion detectors with high frequency deterrent to keep deer and other animals out of the fields.

During the presentation of this research at the NYS Producer’s Expo we surveyed the audience of 107 participants in the session. Twenty-four noted they had an average of 10% bird damage to sweet corn (based on raising hands). In addition, they experienced damage from Deer (12 hands), Raccoon (19), other wildlife noted included bear, coyote, woodchuck, squirrel, and skunk. A few raised two hands for bird, deer and raccoon.

During our winter meetings most in the room experience bird damage in their vegetable crops and in addition deer, raccoon, woodchuck, and skunk. They estimated about 10% damage from birds in sweet corn.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.