Reducing Blackbird Damage

Field Assistance

If you are having blackbird problems, the Blackbird Control Map document provides a map with phone numbers for ND, MN and SD producers. They will respond to you during the damage season by providing loaner cannons and pyrotechnics. These offices will provide further assistance in an attempt to break up large roosts.
Blackbird damage to ripening sunflower can be a serious problem with extensive yield losses.
Sunflower Head damaged by Black BirdsResearch indicates that up to half or more of the blackbird damage to ripening sunflower occurs in the first two weeks after petal drop. These are blackbirds that have been reared locally and are in the process of developing their long range flying feathers. These birds are difficult to move for that reason.  The most common blackbird species impacting sunflower are the 'red winged' blackbirds.

Photo credit for sunflower head: USDA APHIS Wildlife Services (
Cattail Management
Untreated Wetlands
Untreated Wetlands
Eliminating cattails is the single best weapon in reducing damage. The most effective control is spraying the cattails with a Glyphosate product labeled for aquatic use. Spraying the cattails will keep the wetland free of cattails for 4 or more years. Cattails in dry sloughs should be eliminated with Glyposate prior to tillage. This will provide longer control.

The damage season is the best time to identify which cattail sloughs birds are using to congregate. Those need to be sprayed. Fish & Wildlife Service will most often agree to have their wetlands sprayed as well. Contacting USDA with wetland locations should be done as early as possible at 701-355-3300.
All of the items listed below can lower damage especially if used in combination. The migrating flocks come later in September or near the first frost. These flocks are easier to move with hazing techniques.
USDA does loan out cannons to scare blackbirds out of fields. Cannons are effective only if combined with occasional shooting to kill or wound blackbirds. Automatic timers on the cannons can make them much effective.  Otherwise the birds become accustomed to the noise.
Blackbirds do not like to be harassed in the evening/night as they are settling into a wetland or tree grove.  Several individuals shooting at them as the blackbirds are coming into roost and then shooting into the roost may prompt the birds to leave after a night or two of harassment.  Some local gun clubs have cooperated with their grower friends in harassment activities in the sunflower field as well as the roost.  This provides good target practice and the growers often reciprocate with hunting privileges.
Glyphosate is labeled on sunflower as a late season weed control and works as a desiccant as well. Desiccation can shorten the time that fields are vulnerable to birds. Other products such as Paraquat and Drexel Defol are labeled as well.  Learn more about late season weed control by reading Glyphosate Labeled For Late Season Sunflower in the April 2007 issue of The Sunflower.
Treated wetlands

There are a number of bird repellants on the market.  Caged efficacy trials conducted by USDA shows limited repellancy.

DRC 1339 is an avicide that is registered for use to eliminate blackbirds 'doing or about to do damage'.  The product is being tested during the sunflower damage season.  The challenge has been to get the blackbirds into a feeding site when there are large fields of sunflower or corn nearby.  This product is used widely in other areas of the country when the birds have few feeding options.  Work will continue in the sunflower region.  There is a lot of interest in additional repellants.  New products are being tested in caged trials and in field trials.  Products with good efficacy will be brought to market as soon as possible. 

National Scope
Blackbirds are the single largest bird population in North America.  A cautious damage estimate of $200 million dollars annually is done to a multitude of crops and livestock.  There are serious concerns about human and animal health in areas where large flocks overwinter.  There are major concerns about aircraft/airport safety.  Efforts are in place to create a national plan to deal with this pest. 

NSA Funded Research
There are a number of research papers available for review on the NSA web site that describes studies conducted on bird predation. Go to the searchable Research Forum page and select the "Bird Predation" category for more information.


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