Bovine-avian interactions on dairies: improving cow welfare and farm economic stability by implementing effective and sustainable pest bird deterrence methods

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2016: $238,105.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Washington State University
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Amber Adams-Progar
Washington State University

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement, wildlife
  • Pest Management: biological control, disease vectors, prevention, traps
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures


    Pest birds cause significant damage to livestock and crop farms across the United States. On dairy farms, pest birds consume and spoil cattle feed while potentially contributing to avian-bovine disease transmission. The objectives of this study were to: 1) conduct a survey of Washington State dairy farmers to determine the economic costs related to pest bird damage; 2) measure the prevalence of specific bacteria in pest bird feces; 3) evaluate how pest bird depredation of cattle feed affects the availability of nutrients for cattle; and 4) provide outreach activities to test and promote efficient, environmentally-sustainable pest bird deterrence methods. A survey of Washington State dairy farmers was conducted during an annual dairy industry meeting. The survey included demographic information about the dairy operation, presence of birds on the dairy, methods of bird deterrence used and the costs associated with these methods, as well as estimated feed losses caused by pest birds. Over the course of three years, we assessed the impact of bird populations on the nutritional composition of cattle feed, presence of bacteria in bird feces, and changes in cattle behavioral patterns. Five dairies were enrolled into the study and visited to collect bird fecal samples, cattle feed samples, and cattle behavioral observations. Bird fecal samples were analyzed for E. coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella. Fresh and bird-depleted feed samples were analyzed for dry matter, total digestible nutrients (TDN), protein, crude fiber, ash, fat, and net energy. Cow behavioral patterns and the number of birds at the feed bunk were recorded using on-farm cameras. Kestrel nestboxes were installed on a few Washington State dairies to investigate whether attracting native raptors to dairies is an effective pest bird deterrence method. The survey revealed approximately $14 million in bird damage losses for the Washington dairy industry, annually. Farms that reported the presence of more than 10,000 birds per day were more likely to report the presence of Salmonella or Johne’s disease. The prevalence of bacterial populations in bird fecal samples did not differ among farms but Campylobacter jejuni, a strain known for causing abortions in cattle, was discovered in one location. The number of birds observed at the feed bunk and the percentage of nutritional loss in cattle feed differed among pens. Understanding where birds prefer to feed on dairies may improve the effectiveness of bird deterrent management techniques. A variety of bird deterrent methods are available for dairy farmers but, at best, the most commonly used methods are considered only “somewhat effective” by farmers. The use of more sustainable methods, such as attracting native birds of prey to dairies, may be beneficial to dairy cattle well-being as well as dairy farmer economic sustainability.   

    Project objectives:

    The objectives of this study were:

    1. Survey producers. Distribute a survey to all Washington dairy producers to determine perceived rates of feed consumption and destruction and scope of the pest bird issue.
    2. Outreach. Conduct Extension outreach including educational workshops, field days, producer-to-producer discussions, professional presentations and publications on pest bird issues and control measures.
    3. Field data collection. Record pest bird counts, bird-induced feed quality changes and pathogen prevalence at the feed bunk, and bird-cow interactions throughout fall-winter seasons at select dairies.
    4. Perform pilot efficacy trials of native raptor attraction on select dairies.
    5. Create a web-based tool for producers to help them choose an economically-efficient bird deterrent method, given their site-specific bird damage issues.


    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.