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Blackbird Season: It’s Here

Monday, September 1, 2008
filed under: Birds

There probably is no part of the sunflower production season as frustrating for everyone — especially the producer — as the blackbird damage season. To assist affected growers, USDA has placed field personnel in North Dakota and South Dakota. (See the map on page 19 of the hardcopy issue of The Sunflower or visit the Blackbird page on the National Sunflower Association's web site.)

These field personnel are loaning out and distributing several hundred cannons upon request. The cannons have automatic timers on them for nighttime shutoff and varied daily explosions.

Early placement of cannons is most effective. Periodic field shooting will enforce the message of the cannons. Moving the cannons and varying the timing will be more effective. Some producers place empty 50-gallon drums in front of the cannon shot to enhance the sound effect.

Many producers own their own cannons and can add timers to make them more effective. (One supplier for timers and new cannons is Reed-Joseph International. The company can be contacted at 800-647-5554. Or, visit their web site at

This year the USDA fieldmen will carry shotguns to assist in harassment wherever possible, time permitting. USDA will bring in extra personnel to help break up roosts of approximately 5,000 or more birds that will not move. Again, for sunflower growers located in the Dakotas, contacting the personnel listed on page 19 is necessary in order to access this assistance.

Late-Season Migrations

Generally, late-season blackbird migrations start after the first freeze. These birds are typically in a larger group and are heading to warmer climates. Occasionally, a large migrating flock will find a perfect setting of a late-maturing standing crop and a nearby wetland and decide to stay past their welcome.

In such late-season situations, USDA again will assemble teams to move these roosts. Sometimes these roost/flocks can be very large — 20,000 birds or more. If necessary, a helicopter will be brought in to ensure the movement of the roost. USDA will make this determination, and there will be a 50% cost-share with the grower.

Early Harvest

Getting the crop off as early as possible is a good option when birds are a concern. Desiccating can hasten the harvest by up to 10 days, according to university research. (See the article on page 8 for more on desiccation.) Determining when to spray is a challenge, and the National Sunflower Association has produced an online video to assist you on making that decision. Go to to view the video featuring Dr. Kirk Howatt of North Dakota State University. (Scroll down to about halfway down the page.)

Bird Repellents & Cattails

There are a number of bird repellents on the market. Caged efficacy trials conducted by USDA shows limited repellency. Most insecticides have some repellent activity. Lorsban® and Cobalt® may be the most effective sunflower labeled insecticide in repelling blackbirds. No insecticide is labeled as a bird repellent. However, it can have this secondary affect when used to control insects.

Cattails should be eliminated throughout the year. The cattail is the blackbird’s best friend for fall roosting or spring nesting. Even small groupings in ditches can host a sizeable number of birds. Look upon cattails as a noxious weed. — Larry Kleingartner

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