'Scary dancers' may help control birds in fruit crops

12/05/2013 04:27:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

scary dancers for bird controlHeidi Henrichs, Cornell UniversityThose large, inflatable dancing creatures commonly seen at car dealerships may have a place in agriculture to scare away birds.

Preliminary findings of a Cornell University study shows the scary dancers or air dancers—up to 15 feet tall—appeared to work better than many other bird hazing tactics, according to a news release.

The work was conducted this season in vineyards and blueberry orchards by Heidi Henrichs, a Cornell graduate student in natural resources.

“My observation is that they worked better than any of the other things that were tested,” Henrichs said in the release. "The vineyard managers and people who worked around these places said they just didn’t see birds like they normally do when these [figures] are dancing."

Fruit damage data is pending.

Growers typically use a variety of bird control methods, including netting, recorded danger-warning calls from different bird species, dummy birds of prey, and metal strips.

When the Environmental Protection Agency banned the chemical taste deterrent, Mesurol, in the 1980s, growers were left serving for alternatives.

As part of her research, Henrichs collected loss data to compare to last year and grower-reported surveys.

This work included assessing fruit damage both on the edges and interior of randomly sampled trees.

A Web-based survey of fruit growers conducted by Cornell and administered across California, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Washington showed bird damage cost growers about $200 million annually. They grew Honeycrisp apples, blueberries, sweet and tart cherries, and winegrapes.

Participating growers also reported that most techniques for controlling bird damage were ineffective.

American robins and European starlings were the modest destructive across all fruit types, according to the survey.

In Honeycrisp apples, American crows caused the most damage.

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