Research aims to help keep sweet corn-eating birds from farmers’ fields

Green laser lights may be the answer

Rebecca-Brown-cornKINGSTON, R.I. – August 29, 2016 – Large flocks of starlings and blackbirds are voracious consumers of sweet corn, costing local farmers as much as $800 per acre in lost product. And this year is turning out to be a particularly bad year for bird damage.

But the most effective and economical strategy farmers have used to scare the birds away – propane-powered cannons that make a loud booming sound at random intervals – are not especially popular with neighbors, many of whom complain about the noise. So the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management asked a University of Rhode Island researcher to investigate alternatives.

Rebecca Brown, a URI professor of plant sciences and an expert on growing vegetables, said the problem of bird damage in commercial corn fields is a serious one.

“Flocking birds can cause an enormous amount of damage to sweet corn,” she said. “They get in there and shred the husks and eat the kernels, and then the farmers can’t sell it. Some birds have even figured out that if they follow the picking crews, they’ll get the best corn at the best time.”

In addition to propane cannons, some farmers have tried tying reflective tape or balloons throughout their fields to frighten the birds or used spray-on bird repellents. But neither is cost effective…[Read more]