Testing laser scarecrows for neighbor-friendly bird damage reduction in sweet corn on periurban farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2017: $14,925.00
Projected End Date: 04/15/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Rhode Island
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
Project Leader:
Dr. Rebecca Brown
University of Rhode Island


  • Vegetables: sweet corn


  • Natural Resources/Environment: wildlife
  • Pest Management: repelling avian pests
  • Sustainable Communities: periurban agriculture, farmer-neighbor relations

    Proposal abstract:

    Bird damage is an increasing problem in the Northeast, particularly for sweet corn growers. The suburban
    landscape provides ideal habitat for flocking birds such as crows and starlings, which roost in trees and structures
    but feed in open areas. At the same time, the peri-urban location limits farmers’ control options. Many growers
    use propane cannons and other noise makers to scare birds as this method best combines economy and efficacy.
    However, the constant barrage of noise from the cannons annoys farmers’ neighbors for miles in every direction.
    In several communities in Rhode Island the conflict between farmers and their neighbors has expanded into the
    political realm, where it is threatening the Right to Farm Act.

    A few farmers in Rhode Island have begun using automated “scarecrows” that utilize low-power green lasers to
    frighten the birds. The farmers believe that the lasers are effective, but there have been no controlled studies. We
    propose to test the efficacy of laser scarecrows to protect sweet corn from bird damage in replicated trials during
    the summer of 2017 on farms in Warwick, Kingston, and Scituate/Cranston Rhode Island and to collect data on
    the responses of various bird species. The experimental design will use paired protected and unprotected
    samples for each date and location to account for differences in bird pressure. Commercial anti-avian laser units
    are not well-suited to the needs and budgets of peri-urban sweet corn growers. This project will test a laser
    developed at URI designed for peri-urban farms.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    In 2014 the University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Division of Agriculture began collaborating on a
    search for alternatives to propane cannons for controlling bird damage in sweet corn. The most promising solution
    appears to be automated laser “scare crows” which project green laser beams over and through the canopy to
    frighten birds. Several commercial units are available on the market, and anecdotal reports from growers are
    largely positive. However, there have been no actual studies assessing the effectiveness of lasers for bird control
    in sweet corn, and no tests on any crops in the Northeast. The goal of this project is to measure the efficacy of
    automated lasers for protecting crops from bird damage, and to collect data needed for farmers and regulators to
    determine whether lasers are a feasible alternative to propane cannons. The project will address the question

    “Are lasers effective at repelling birds from sweet corn fields?”.

    The objectives are to determine whether lasers will reduce bird damage to acceptable levels relative to a control, to determine the density of laser units needed, and to identify the bird species which can be effectively repelled.

    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.