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Starlings, robins, crows, magpies and other bird species may attack tree fruits, especially cherries. Starlings, which cause the most serious damage, resemble blackbirds but have a more stocky build, a shorter tail and more pointed wings. Starlings are beneficial when not damaging fruit because they eat many destructive insect pests. However, during the fruit harvest season, they may cause serious crop losses.
A combination of two or three control methods is usually better than a single method in reducing crop damage. Begin bird control efforts as soon as the birds begin to attack crops. Control methods may not be very effective once birds have established a feeding pattern in an orchard.
Permits are required to kill any birds except starlings, crows, magpies, house (English) sparrows, brown-headed cowbirds and rock doves (domestic pigeons). All other bird species are protected provincially under the BC Wildlife Act or federally under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. Any measures to scare or kill birds using a firearm or aircraft will require a permit issued by the province or the federal government depending on the species, with the exception of the aforementioned starlings, crows, magpies, house sparrows and rock doves. Any person may, without a permit, use equipment other than an aircraft or firearms, to scare migratory birds that are causing or are likely to cause damage to crops or other property. Contact the Ministry of Environment Conservation Officer Service – Problem Animal Hotline (1-877-952-7277) for information on shooting or trapping nuisance birds.
Municipal by-laws or other regulations may restrict the use of noisemakers and/or firearms. Consult your local law enforcement agency and municipal or regional government offices for details. Additional guidelines on the use of noisemakers is provided in the on-line publication "Farm practice - Interior BC Wildlife Damage Control'.
Cracker or whistler shells, propane exploders and electronic Bird Gard (formerly A V-Alarm) or Phoenix Wailer MK IV systems effectively frighten birds out of orchards. For maximum effectiveness, exploders or Bird Gard speakers should be mounted as high as possible to disperse the sound. Check product brochure for precautions involving ear protection and placement of speakers. More information consult the BCMA web site Audible Bird Scare Devices.
Starling Distress Calls
Recorded distress calls have proven highly effective in repelling starlings. A portable, automatic playback system is used to broadcast the distress calls. The components are a photocell on/off switch, duration and interval timer, a cassette tape deck and one or more speakers.
Yellow plastic tapes or streamers strung between poles above the trees act as a visual repellent and can be effective in keeping birds out of orchards when used in conjunction with noisemakers. Tapes or streamers should be twisted every 3 m and attached to poles 12 m apart.
A modified Australian crow trap can catch large numbers of starlings when supplied with appropriate bait. Trapping may significantly reduce local flocks of starlings in early summer; i.e. cherry harvest season. However, trapping is of little use in reducing migratory flocks of starlings in late summer. Care must be taken to release any non-target bird species. For information on the Starling Control Program for the Okanagan Similkameen and to contact a local professional trapper, visit the BC Grapegrowers Association web site or contact the office 1-877-762-4652 toll free.
To educe damage to ripening cherries by American robin, house finches, sparrows or European starlings, apply Rejex-It Migrate (14.5% methyl anthranilate) following label instructions as soon as birds first appear in the orchard. repeat as necessary if risk of significant bird damage remains.
NOTE: Methyl anthanilate may cause leaf discolouration or leaf burn (phytotoxicity). Before treating a large ara of trees, spray a few trees at the recommended rate an observe for 5-7 days to determine if any phytotoxicity occurs (best to do this test before birds appear).
Other methods of damage reduction include the use of scarecrows and predator models; e.g., hawk-shaped kites. Such devices should be moved frequently to maintain effectiveness.