Comments like “How can we keep birds from damaging the ripening millet?” or “How can we ‘parrot-proof’ our corn?” come up year after year. Bird damage to ripening grain is a common problem. Commercial methods available in the States include: sound repellents (electric, propane, pyrotechnics), taste repellents, visual repellents (“scare-eye” balloons, fake snakes), chemicals that make them timid or uneasy, and various netting or screening materials. It is common knowledge that birds quickly become accustomed to some of these and others are inappropriate for the small-holder overseas.
One relatively “low-tech” approach effective in keeping away at least some bird species is the use of a reflecting mylar tape suspended between posts. These “bird tapes” are about 1.3 cm/0.5 in wide with metallic red color on one side and silver on the other. When properly strung between rows they reflect the sun and move in the wind in such a way as to effectively continue scaring birds away.
An article in Hort Ideas (vol 9, number 3, pg 26) mentions the use of mylar tape to control birds in strawberries. Drive strong stakes into the ground no more than 10 m/30 ft apart. You will need mylar tape, strings (50 cm/20 in long) to connect the mylar tape to the post, and strong adhesive tape to secure the mylar to the strings. About 12 cm/5 in above the ground, tie the strings to the stakes, leaving 20 cm/8 in of each end of the string free. Make an “eye” with strong adhesive tape on one end of the mylar tape. Run the strings through this “eye” and tie. Stretch the mylar tape tightly to the next stake. Twist 3 or 4 times and attach in the same manner to that stake. This design allows the mylar to rotate in a breeze without knotting or breaking.
Suspend the tape just above the ground so it can move freely without hitting crops and weeds. Tighten it if it stretches out and replace when the shiny coating wears off (about 6 weeks in the sun). The only supplier listed is John Kaye, Modern Agri-Products, 3770 Aldergrove Rd., Ferndale, WA 98248 who carries “Birdscare Flash Tape”–minimum order: five 250-foot rolls for $15.00.
Some people in Florida keep birds from landing in their pools by stringing monofilament lines (i.e. fishing line) over them. These are hardly noticeable to us, but birds see them. Hort Ideas (vol 9, number 4, pg 42) says that a similar approach is used to protect corn and berries. Drive 2-meter/6foot stakes in the ground around the garden. String the line at about eye-level around the perimeter of the plot and criss-cross it in the middle. According to Cornell University biologists, the reason for success of this technique may be that the fishing line mimics the “impedimenta” warning strings spiders construct near their webs to keep birds from flying through them and destroying their work.
Rosalyn Rappaport, author of Controlling Crop Pests and Diseases, says that West African farmers bend the sorghum heads over when it is nearly ripe to make it hard for seed-eating birds to reach the grain. She also mentions “humming tape,” which involves stretching video or cassette tape between posts. When a breeze blows over the tape it hums, which scares birds away. The tape should be about 5 mm wide and not break when pulled. How you string the tape is crucial. Place posts 4-5 m/15 ft apart and stretch tapes tautly perpendicular to the prevailing winds without any twists. If wind direction is variable, orient them at assorted angles. Hang them high enough to be above the crop at maturity. When protecting large areas (0.5 hectare/1.2 acres or more), place lines 10-20 m/32-65 ft apart. Video or cassette tape will stretch more than commercial tapes and should be replaced every 5 or 6 weeks.
One farmer told us that shooting birds worked fine for him until they learned to avoid the field he was hiding in. He then found that if two people walked into a field and only one walked out, the birds would return. Apparently birds can’t count.
Tom Datema said that farmers in Sierra Leone keep birds from eating newly planted corn seeds by planting in cone-shaped holes about 20 cm/8 in deep. By the time the birds can reach the seedlings they’re too big for them to bother.
If you try any of these methods, please let us know your results. We would also like to hear of other approaches to bird control that you or farmers you work with have personally found to be effective.
ECHO Staff 1995. How Do I Keep Birds Out of the Garden?. ECHO Development Notes no. 48