PPDL Picture of the Week for
September 12, 2011

Bird Damage in Fruit Crops

Bruce P Bordelon, Professor Horticulture, Purdue University

One of the biggest problems we've seen this year has been bird damage in fruit crops. Berry crops and grapes (See Figure 1) are the most commonly attacked, but we've even seen birds pecking apples and peaches this year. It's hard to understand how birds can be a significant problem some years and a minor inconvenience in others. Or why some locations have problems almost every year while others see practically no bird pressure at all. For whatever reason there are many reports from growers that birds are causing significant damage this year. Managing bird damage is difficult. Netting is by far the best solution (See Figure 2), but it is expensive and labor intensive to install and remove. And nets aren't fool proof. They must be properly installed to prevent birds from entering from beneath, sitting on the nets and pecking berries through the netting, etc. When birds are only an occasional problem it's hard to justify going to such extremes. But, without exclusion, you can expect to have some losses to birds. The best you can hope to do is minimize the damage until you can get the crop harvested. This is accomplished by employing a wide range of audio and visual bird scare tactics. This may include propane cannons and pyrotechnic devices in addition to flashy tape, hawk kites, scare eye balloons, etc. Just like netting, these tactics must be started before the birds establish a pattern of feeding in the vineyard. Once the birds get started, it takes near constant harassment to keep them out of the vineyard. A person patrolling on an ATV or similar vehicle with an audio device or shotgun can be effective. Focus your efforts in early morning and late evening when the birds are most likely to be actively feeding.

As of May 2011 possession and use of certain pyrotechnic or Explosive Pest Control Devices (EPCDs) now requires a permit and/or license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. EPCDs are regulated explosives that fall under ATF jurisdiction. There are some fairly strict rules for use, storage and record keeping. The use permit requires an application, background check, fingerprinting, photograph and a fee of $100 renewable in 3 years. You can learn everything you need to know about the license and permit process at http://atf.gov/explosives/how-to/explosive-pest-control-device-requirements.html. Use of EPCDs and other pyrotechnic devices may also need approval by your local fire marshal or sheriff's department. And be very aware that your neighbors may not be happy about your noisemaking activities. Try to let them know what you are doing (especially if you employ propane cannons and EPCDs) and give them a number to call. Be aware that some birds, such as robins, are protected species. You may be able to use lethal methods to control certain protected and non-protected species, but you should contact Judy Loven, Indiana State Director, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services Program for appropriate permits. Judy can be contacted at 765-494-6229 or loven@purdue.edu.

Click image to enlarge

Fig. 1 Bird damage to grapes

Figure 1.

Fig. 2. Use of netting to protect grapes from birds

Figure 2.


Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service