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Going for Grit in Fighting Blackbirds

Thursday, February 15, 2007
filed under: Birds

Dealing with the blackbird problem has been the biggest challenge for the National Sunflower Association.

There are many areas where farmers have simply given up on the crop out of frustration with blackbird damage. This is despite sunflower providing consistently high returns over the years.

“We have made great strides in many areas such as downy mildew and Sclerotinia, but the gains made in the blackbird front have been minimal,” says Stan Buxa, farmer board member from Harvey, N.D. In fact, Buxa says that ground may have been lost in the last several years, with federal funding for blackbird management being diverted to other programs.

To invigorate the blackbird management effort, the NSA has approached the North Dakota Legislature for funds to put 'boots on the ground' in key N.D. regions where blackbird damage is consistently high.

Senate Bill 2179 would provide funds specifically fighting blackbirds. The funds would be directed to the N.D. Department of Agriculture, and part-time technicians would be placed in damage areas during the critical peak times.

These technicians would work under the direction of the National Wildlife Research Center (N.D. Field Office) in testing the use of the labeled avicide DRC 1339 on gravel roads.

DRC 1339 was used as bait in sunflower fields in the past, but proved to be ineffective in the fields because blackbirds simply were not willing to go to the ground to pick up food. However, gravel roads are likely to be more effective, and there is good evidence out of Texas that this may work. Gravel roads provide grit, which blackbirds pick up on a daily basis to aid digestion. The avicide can be used on blackbirds when they are doing or about to do damage. Gravel road baiting will also provide researchers a good vantage point to insure that non-targets are not taking the bait.

The technicans will also assist growers in distribution of cannons and identifying wetlands for cattail control. Controlling cattails is one of the keys in lowering damage. The USDA has a cost share program for controlling cattails (in N.D., call USDA Wildlife Services at 701-250-4405 for more information.)

Buxa sees the N.D. legislation, SB 2179, as a critical step in dealing with this major pest. “N.D. farmers need to contact their legislators to voice support for this bill,” he says. “Sunflower is not the only crop suffering damage from blackbirds. Corn and barley crops are also targeted by blackbirds, especially in the absence of ripened sunflower. So this bill would benefit those crops as well.”

The N.D. Legislature online: The Sunflower will have an update on this bill and other blackbird management issues in the next issue. – Larry Kleingartner

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