Letter to the editor: Options are available to help with blackbird problemBlackbirds aren’t a welcome sight to most farmers. These birds depredate the crops that growers depend on for income, namely sunflowers and corn. Blackbirds utilize North Dakota wetlands for nesting and rearing young, as do many other wetland birds. Some growers utilize the USDA’s cattail spraying program to eradicate this avian nuisance. What are the consequences of spraying to other wetland species?
By: Candace Kraft, The Jamestown Sun
Blackbirds aren’t a welcome sight to most farmers. These birds depredate the crops that growers depend on for income, namely sunflowers and corn. Blackbirds utilize North Dakota wetlands for nesting and rearing young, as do many other wetland birds. Some growers utilize the USDA’s cattail spraying program to eradicate this avian nuisance. What are the consequences of spraying to other wetland species?
Since 1991, farmers have been able to use the cattail spraying program, federally funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. Helicopters spew glyphosate herbicide over areas of land in order to thin or completely eradicate cattails.
Many other species of birds also depend on dense marshes to survive, such as Soras, Virginia Rails and Marsh Wrens. A study done by North Dakota State University reports that when glyphosate herbicide is applied numbers of these birds decline. North Dakota birdwatchers cherish viewing a wild rail because of their elusive nature and relative rarity in this state.
People may argue that spraying cattail herbicide opens up habitat for waterfowl. This is true, but North Dakota is nationally known for its abundant waterfowl production. Conservation Reserve Program loss may soon affect waterfowl profusion, but that is a separate issue. Just because the Virginia Rail isn’t a game bird, doesn’t mean it’s less important than a Mallard.
Most importantly, farmers can do things to repel blackbirds and reduce their use of pesticides. One option is to plant crops that are not attractive to blackbirds, such as soybeans and potatoes. Another option is to use scare tactics, like pyrotechnics, carbon-dioxide powered scarecrows, cannons, or even a .22 caliber rifle shot into the air. This method is a form of conditional learning, so intermittent repetition is needed.
Blackbirds will eat the nearest, most convenient food source. Another option available to farmers is to plant a lure crop around the direct vicinity of blackbird roosts. Commercial crop depredation by blackbirds will be significantly reduced if it’s a smaller blackbird roost. Also, postponing tilling or plowing of the previous year’s harvested land will provide blackbirds with waste grains. These seeds are easier for the birds to obtain.
Seed hybrids are also becoming widely available at lower costs. This method of controlling blackbirds is probably the most promising in reducing use of pesticides. Sunflower hybrids resistant to blackbirds grow flowers with horizontal, concave heads. Corn hybrids resistant to blackbirds have thick, long husks.
If these options run out, chemicals may be the only option for farmers. Pesticides are costly to the environment, and should really be used as a last resort. Farmers probably have a greater responsibility to the land than the general public, and what they do to their land affects everyone.