Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mountain or Mole Hill? Revisited

Picking up were we left off earlier in Mountain or Mole Hill?, now using updated numbers from the past 30-days (July 6-August 5, 2008, less July 18 with no observations), let's see what sort of berry losses were likely to have occurred this past growing season.

Remember the first posting Mountain or Mole Hill? only relied upon a set of figures based on one day’s observed bird numbers, and we used a 50-day period as the season. Below the bird numbers come from observations made during both a 30-day period which was this season's length.

During these 30-days, I made 68 observations while in the blueberry field which averages 2.26 observations/day. The grand total number of birds observed (all species) that were present in, arriving or departing the field equaled 941 during those 68 observations.

In an effort to average out the number of birds throughout the 30-day period and thus come to some sort of conclusion how many birds were present at any given time, here's how I did that:

The number of birds per observation = 13.8 [941/68=13.8]
The number of birds per day = 31.3 [13.8 X 2.26=31.3]

For now, let us assume that these 31.3 birds are all that has impacted the berries each of the 30-days, each day.

Assuming each bird destroys 10 berries per day, the berry loss per day would be 313 berries per day. Total losses for 30-days would be 9,390 berries.

Even though I think we have a pretty good idea for numbers of birds in the field at any given time, lets say I underestimated this number by 3.

Now, let us assume there are 93.9 birds in the field. Each destroys 10 berries per day. The daily loss would be 939 berries. Total losses for 30-days would be 28,170 berries.

Going back to the assumed field’s standing inventory equalling 14,076,238 berries (see earlier post), let’s calculate what sort of percentage loss these 93.9 birds have on the field.

28,170 berries lost during 30-days divided by 14,076,238 total inventory = 0.002 or 0.2% loss for the 30-day period.

Okay let’s make it even worse, way worse. We will increase the impact 10 times (either by number of birds, or the same number but these gluttons eating 10 times the fruit…serious digestive problems to follow for sure). Based on this, the 30-day total loss will be 2.0%.

REMEMBER: This last number has increased from ACTUAL bird observations by a factor of THIRTY (30) TIMES!

Within reason we have overall bird predation impact between a range of: 0.2% a likely and moderate estimate, to 2.0% a unobserved worst case and unlikely scenario.

Again...all I am trying to do here is give EVERYONE some sense of what the scale is when it comes to berry loss by birds. Especially when the impact of cannons is real, invasive and harmful.

Let me add another poignant consideration.

During those 68 in-field observations, of the total 941 birds in the count, 537 were Robins and 179 (19%) were Starlings. And of those Starlings, 117 were observed on one day (July 28th). If you consider that day real, but unusual and disregard it, then observed for the remaining 29-days were only 62 Starlings. Just 62!

Either way, you do the math to find out what the fruit-loss was for this season for this field by Starlings! Try it you'll like it...hey Mikey!

The poignant point is this: Robins do not respond to loud explosive repellent devices. This is my 4-year personal observation. Even directly targeting (but missing on purpose) incoming robins and shooting off a shotgun - does not deter them! Shooting over the field does not work. Blasting Lp cannons does not work. Nothing works except perhaps a taste repellent (Migrate-RejexIt) or netting.

So if growers face the same sort of number scenarios as above: Starlings a minor component of predation, and Robins are the majority, and cannons applied automatically and indiscriminately ... I ask for what? What are we trying to do? For what good? And placing at risk the health and well-being of the rural community? Why?!

I am not addressing conditions of the hoards of Starlings, which may be out there somewhere. I am addressing the real conditions found in fields like described in this blog.

More on this later. But thanks for plowing through this with me.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

August 6 2008

I could say the effort is over for now. The field work and experiments with quiet alternatives have far as I can see.

I hope to use the Helikites and JacKites on another field if a grower is interested...still have extra helium, and why put these guys to bed when they can still be working for someone else.

In the days ahead, there will be fewer posts, certainly not on an every day basis...whew its been an intense 5 weeks. I hope to sit back and do some reflecting on what happened this growing season in this one blueberry field. Perhaps some of it will be transferable to and for other growers?!

I am so thankful for having the opportunity to be given this chance to try some things out in this particular field. For this blueberry grower, who I did not know very well, to give me basically "carte blanc" in access to this field...well that was bold and risky: "Who is this crazy yaa-hoo who plays with flying bird kites on bamboo poles?" Yet he granted such access. As the summer progressed, we gained a growing trusting relationship. Perhaps a bit tentative throughout. But with the "proof-in-the-pudding" end results " little damage...", I think our relationship has solidified.

This blueberry grower is to be greatly appreciated and praised. Thank you my friend.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

August 5 2008

6:45 am

Calm and very bright again

Berry pickers arriving and starting to pick.

7:00 am

The 1 HK was soaking wet from dew, and sitting on grass field. Put up on metal post to dry out. Deployed the other HK at NW corner, to 1/2 elevation height. Took 10 minutes.

Observed 5 robins, 3 finches, 0 starlings at the north west corner of field. Saw little activity to south. There are about 30 field workers in the field. Robins are for the most part ignoring them or flying around their locations, still landing in the field.

8:15 am

Deployed the HK that has dried on metal post 1/2 way between woods and field, is at 1/4 elevation height. Took 5 minutes.

Took no observations of birds.

1:00 pm

Took down both Helikites for good. Stored. Took 30 minutes.

8:00 pm

Took down all my JacKites for good. Stored. Took 1 hour.

I called the grower to inform him all the kites were down and gone.

I received a wonderful response from him, "There was so little damage to the fruit!" He also thanked me for providing the help with monitoring the field with the kites. Also stated how impressive it was to get the vultures and eagle to show up and "scare the shit out of the birds." Yep that was fun.

I asked if we could "debrief" in a couple weeks, asking what went right, what did not. He agreed.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Monday, August 4, 2008

August 4 2008


Calm; very bright morning sun.

I went out to put up the two Helikites. Topped them off with helium. Deployed 1 at the very NW corner of field at about 1/2 elevation; the other deployed at about center of field on the west row to full elevation. Took 20 min.

Saw & talked grower, says will start handpicking today. He was patroling perimeter of field.

I was planning on resupply the bait area with fresh innards, but if picking starts, will hold off. With 30 people spread out in the field, this will help repel Starlings.

I observed 16 robins, 4 finches, 2 starlings. Robins are still feeding mostly at NW corner; the Starlings in the mid-center.

One Rough-legged hawk on telephone pole NE 1/2 mile.

Two or three triple shot cannons going of NE about 1 mile. They were on only a short time from about 8-8:30 am.

I shot 1 shotgun shell, this flushed 1 starling, 2 robins.

2:00 pm

Helikites are active in the wind.

4:00 pm

I saw 2 Rough-legged hawks resting side-by-side on telephone 1/4 mile due west.

5:00 pm

I move and lowered the HK that was center in west row.
Observed 7 robins, 5 finches, 1 starling.

6-6:15 pm

Took down 1 HK; other put on post 1/2 way between woods and NW corner. Left at 30' height, will leave up all night. Placing at this location because its the major traffic conduit to the field.
Took 15 min.

Observed 6 robins, 2 finches, 1 starling. No or little bird activity to south part of field.

Dairy to west of me, injecting manure in his fields - all day.

6:30 pm

Cannons to the NNE firing, about 1 to 1 and half mile.

7:15 pm

Cannons to NW, N, and NE shooting. I think most are Canadian.
See very little activity between NW corner of field and woods.

7:20 pm

It sounds like a war to the north, can't count # of cannon blasts; but I think the bulk are Canadian.

8:00 pm

Cannons all off.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

August 3 2008

2:45 am

Two triple-shooter cannons going...I think from SE? Got out of bed to try to locate..but by time outside they stopped. I think someone was setting and/or testing them.

9:15 am

Calm, sunny.

Again fixed eagle pole.

Observed 13 robins, 12 finches, 1 starling. 7 finches were Amer. gold finches.
No vultures etc. Perhaps too little wind to fly. Bait still there.

I see 45-50 starlings on telephone line by barn just north of my house.

12:30 pm

Rough-legged hawk circling north end of blueberry field in tight circles.
Not seeing any starlings near my area or the barn area.

4:30 pm

JacKite bald eagle line tangled around it's wings - fixed.

Observed 10 robins, 7 finches, 3 starlings all in very NW corner of field - the robins are using corn field for retreat. Rest of field is quiet.

I fired 2 shotgun blasts...nothing happened, nothing rousted.

4:45 pm

Noticed less presence and actvity from the 3 Rough-legged hawks. Also much less presence of swallows...where do both go?

7:00 pm

North dairy field adjacent to the berries is being irrigated.

Observed 15 robins, 4 finch, 6 starlings. Most are entering/exiting the center mid-point in the field. Starlings and finches using my woods for staging.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

August 2 2008

7:30 am

3 vultures circling east end of woods; and moved west over my house. A Coopers hawk is chasing one.

8:15 am

Grower monitoring.

Side note: I am seeing, as have been all summer, more barn swallows than ever, and they are active all day vs early evening in past years.

9:45 am

3 vultures moving over woods and closer to bait. 1 Rough-legged hawk watching from tree in woods. Heard a bald eagl near by, don't see.

10:00 am

4 vultures moving from woods going SW over dairy. Seems much less presence of Starlings near my area and the adjacent dairy.

10:45 am

Drove west edge of field.
Observed 10 robins; 5 finches, 0 starlings. Distribution of birds is about 60% locating around the north-center of the field; but more are in south sections. Robins now arriving from woods but going to the south end. I can see that the cow innards being scavanged as I drive by.

10:43 am

Still notice very few starlings around.

11:17 am

Grower monitoring.

11:30 am

Bald eagle in tree by dairy across road.

12:30 pm

My hawk is quite active and vocal; flew over my house, looking a bit ragged, is missing a fair number of wing feathers. The other Rough-legged hawk is circing over woods, with a vulture over NW corner of field. Another vulture flew over me at 60'. Young Rough-legged just flew over me and backyard. So there appears to be 3 Rough-legged hawks using my woods. Young hawk and 3 vultures over my grass field circling over bait area. There are now 5 vutures, one flying lower, right over me at 25' height. They know there's food at bait, but wary, flying over it with 1/4 mi radius.

Ah ahh...all this time, there were 4 vultures on the bait...something spooked was the bald eagle. Wow now there is 16 vultures all circling over bait. Gradually they scattered.

1:00 pm

1 Rough-legged hawk came in from the north and traveled south, followed by vulture that circling bait.

1:15 pm

Went to check the bait. Then to blueberry field. I was amazed for there was not one bird in or near the field. This is the first time during ripening, that I have not seen ONE bird of some sort in the field. Wow! I videoed the vultures and the condition of the field. [See below] This shows one bald eagle feeding on some yummies; with a group of 10-15 turkey vultures buzzing around wishing for some portions. The effect: no robins, finches or starlings: they all but disappeared!

2:45 pm

One lone vulture circling very high over field, moving north to south.

4:30 pm

I am monitoring.
Observed 7 robins all in 1 group fly in in "hot and heavy" (fast and low)...they seemed very uneasy. There were 0 finches, 1 starling. Field very quiet. 3 vultures within 1/2 mile radius, flying separately.

6:00 pm

I drove the north end of field, stopped, waited.
Observed 0 birds of any kind.

7:15 pm

I drove full perimeter of field.
Observed 0 robins, 2 finches, 0 starlings. Amazing!


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

August 1 2008

Midnight and on....

A grower up in the Northwood/Halverstick area is firing 2 triple-shot cannons every 2 min for each cannon.

8-8:30 am

Grower monitoring.

8:50 am

I fixed the eagle pole for it slipped down 2 sections.

Observed 6 robins, 6 finches, 1 gold finch; 12 starlings, most in or departing mid center of field. North end squawker still not operating.

Berries very ripe. I really wonder if I should just take down all the JacKites...they have been up way too long without substantial change. But we're so close to's a dilemma.

11:15 am

I am in the field again...the eagle pole telescoped down again. Must be from being wet. I moved it south about 100'.

Observed 14 robins, 3 finches, 3 starlings. 12 of the robin leaving from the very NW corner, now using adjacent corn field vs the woods now for retreat location...much closer less energy. I shot one shotgun shell, no effect on robins. However when I drove nearby, about 12 left field.

1:00 pm
A vulture arising from bait.

5:30 pm

I am monitoring.

Observed 7 robins, 4 finches, 0 starlings.
Observed 1 vulture 500' height, due east about 1000' and is circling.
Saw a Coopers hawk SE of the field.

6:30-7:00 pm

Grower monitoring, fired 2 screamers.

6:50 pm

A group of 10-15 vultures came in very fast from west circled woods landed I think on north of woods. I called grower on cell to warn not to fire screamer for fear of driving them away. Grower most immpressed with their appearing and appearance ... Asked how I got them there...informed the use of cow innards which attracted a lone vulture which brought the rest.
Grower also commented, "There so few birds!" I replied, "Well its been a good effort, we've learnd a lot."

I've seen on 3 occasions today 1 or more Rough-legged hawks on telephone pole 1/4 mi due east.

11:30-12 pm

Heard one or two triple-shooter(s) cannons firing very rapidly, almost like a machine gun speed... Then stopped. I believe they are the ones we've been hearing at night from the NE.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly...the Good

If you've been reading my posts, you should by now realize how much I appreciate my neighbor blueberry grower. Not only has he invested a great deal in capital, labor, planning and resources, he has also invested priceless care and concern for his 24 neighbors living near his berry field.

Why is he to be appreciated?

1. He did not use Lp cannons.
2. He regularly monitored his fields.
3. He used screamers and/or shotgun discharges to a minimum, and only after 7 am or before 6 pm, and only when he felt there was sufficient bird presence.
4. He used 2 squawkers which are a more moderate audible device.
5. He deployed 20 JacKites on an ever changing location basis.
6. He deployed 2 Helikites on a more limited, back-up basis, also changing in location.
7. He has been considering the purchase and installation of netting for this field.

All this informs me that this particular grower is operating from a balanced perspective of desiring reasonable return on his investment, coupled with a desire to be a good neighbor.

I personally thank him and his family for their supreme effort to work this fine and often "dicey" line! They are much valued as an important part of our agricultural/rural community.

But not to be overlooked...there are others to thank.

Make no mistake, overall this growing season, the blueberry interests in north Whatcom County have made significant strides forward with their use of Lp cannons. They have limited the hours, narrowed the hours, reduced frequency between firing events, and (although I can not see them) it sure seems they have been monitoring their fields to a greater extent.

This is what I sense, mostly via what I hear, from where I live. I have also talked with a variety of other people living all over the north county area, and they too echo my observations and appreciation.

So thank you all of you blueberry growers who have responded this way!


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly...the Bad

I use the word "bad" lightly here. I just felt like using that old Clint Eastwood spaghetti western's seems to fit with what I hope to share.

Bad really means = "not a particularly effective or appropriate practice".

Specifically, in my drives around the county, at all sorts of hours, I have noticed some trends. One is to be using the squawker devices on auto on a regular basis, without variation in location and times of operation. They remain located constantly at X spot in the field, and, they turn on automatically at dawn and off at dusk.

This in my judgment will eventually create conditions of habituation where birds get used to the distress cries coming from the speaker box.

Variation in both location and operation, will in my judgment, add to the grower's repellent strategies.

Secondly, I have noticed some growers keeping the squawkers on ALL night. This makes no sense. Birds know perfectly well that the sort of sounds (and presumed actions such represent) do not occur in the night, and surely ALL night long. This is so counter to what these devices were designed to do in the first place - mimic actual predator/prey encounters.

And again, as the sun begins to rise, having had the squawker running all night, and continuing with new daylight, the birds will naturally associate this as only background noise, andwill thoroughly disregard it as a threat...thus habituating.

I hope this helps.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly...the Ugly

Let's get right to it -- the use of Lp cannons at night is more than ugly, it is irresponsible in the best, perhaps illegal in the worst.

Beyond that, it is just (let me wisely choose my words here) unbelievably "not useful"!

If the idea for using these most intrusive devices is to "shock and awe" fruit-eating predatory birds, thus scare them away, then someone has got to explain to me, what species of bird is in the fields at night here in Whatcom County?

I do not want to make this bigger than it should be. Yet to hear on 5 occassions the past 14 days, 2 triple-shooter cannons going of at all hours of the quiet night, oh the lament for the sanities of those living near by. For from 3-miles away my wife and I were woke up by this. Window open, drawing in the cool night air, so quiet you could hear Sprint's pin drop, and then boom, boom, boom...and boom, boom, boom...

This was only one grower, only one, here in Whatcom County as far as I can tell. Only one.

One does not color the rest of the blueberry industry of many. But boy oh boy does it do it sad harm.

So that's the ugly part, perhaps the ugliest it can get. We trust it will end and not reoccur.


REMEMBER: The villain is the day-operational Starling. It is not the day-operational grower.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

July 31 2008

4:00 am

A triple-shot cannon is firing at intervals of 2-3 minutes. It is still pitch black, no sounds of birds. Seems to be coming from NE about 3 miles.

8:30 am
Light rain.

Grower monitoring.

12 noon

Grower monitoring.

1:00 pm

I monitored briefly the northwest corner.

Observed 6 robins, 4 finches, no starlings. Bird activity still seems to center on north end of field.

4:30 pm
Overcast, no wind, light rain.
I drove north end of field.

Observed 9 robins, 8 finches, 3 starlings.

6:45 pm

Cannons in the county active to the north, northeast and southeast.

7:00 pm
Wind out of northeast.

I monitored north end field.

Observed 9 robins, 4 finches; 0 starlings.

Lots of cannons going off in north county.

In my opinion with the changing weather, Starlings are hunkering down. They are much less prevalent out in the open, telephone lines, etc., guessing they are hold up in barns, trees, till weather passes.

7:10 pm
"My" hawk is scoulding my presence near the east edge of the field. It's fledgling is crying nearby.

10:30 pm
I hear 2 triple-shooters going off. Sounds like they are coming from the northeast part of the county. I got out of bed to locate. Did find, three miles NE from my home. Recorded on video/audio. They kept firing into early morning or beyond. This is the 5th night in 2 weeks this grower has shot of his cannons during night.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower (excepting one).

July 30 2008

7;30 am

Grower monitoring

9;30 am

I am in field monitoring. Untangled eagle line was wrapped around pole.

Observed 15-20 robins, 8-12 finches, 12-15 starlings. Most were in north 1/4 of field.

Wind good, JK's active.

5;15 pm

I drove north end of field, stopped, worked on eagle JK pole which had slipped down (telescoping).

Observed 4 finches, 9 robins, and 2 starlings - again all in north end of field. Strangly quiet, compared to the last 48 hrs.

North-end squawker is still not operating.

Berries very ripe, increasingly vulnerable to dropping by light touch.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July 29 2008

6:15-7:00 am
Going out to the field, noted overcast, high clouds, light breeze out of north-east; some rain on windshield.

For not wanting to waste helium, I deployed one of the leaky mylar balloons. Topped it off and tied kite line to the fill-up value, then anchored at north-west corner of field. Nice and shiny.

Not sure if I will deploy HK due to possible rain.

Note that the north end squawker still not operating.

Observed 6-8 robins in fld, w/a group of 9 that just entered, 4 finches, no starlings. 90% of birds are concentrating in an area of the berries at the northern 150' of the field. As far as I can see, the rest of field south, is free of any birds.

6:40 am

I did go ahead and deploy 1 HK. This between the north-west corner of the field and my woods, tied off to corn stalk with the unit out to a 3/4 length. I didn't want the HK to come down in berries should it rain before I got back, so kept the other in box.

Moved eagle to north end.

Berries are very ripe...some fall to light touch, 99% ripe-blue definitel ready to pick.

An OpEd, sidebar - -

Even though yesterday's bird pressure changed dramatically, and I worried that all is about to be lost, or was about to get much worse, we still won. The strategy did work! We were successful. Why?

Primarily because we got the fruit to maturity with only 1 or 2 days of significant starling pressure (50+ present yesterday). We avoided the large flocks or feared hoards. It could have been much worse. Until yesterday, the number of Starlings observed in the field from 7/4 to 7/28 were less than 10. That's success in my judgment.

Yes we had Robins. As I indicated in yesterday's post (July 28 2008), even direct, up-close, repeated blasts from a shotgun, even THAT does not deter them. From my observations in the field for the past 3-years, this confirms similar resistence to visual or auditory repellents by robins. They are tough ole birds! Their daily numbers ranged from 10-30 or so. If their damage is of concern to the grower, and we know these repellents do not work, then the only options left are: netting, or using taste repellent like Migrate or a sugar spray application.

Okay so we got the berries to full ripe condition. Now they need to be harvested. I understand some of the logistic struggles the grower (actually any grower) goes through, facing a significantly diminished labor force, and the trials with using a mechanical picker. It's going to take another week or so to get this fruit off the bush. THIS is now the most vulnerable time. So for now, this year, in this field, it really behooves the grower to provide someone to monitor the field at least for the early morning hours and late afternoon hours. This which will allow him to respond to any major Starling threat. It's much better security than wishful thinking an unmonitored automatic Lp cannon (or any form of unmonitored strategy) is doing the job.

I have some thoughts on what we could have done differently, or better, but that will come in a subsequent posting.

Now back-to-the-ranch.

7:03 am

I left the field w/apprx 25 robins still present.

7:45 am

Came back and took down HK and balloon...cause rain is moving in from the south.

Apprx 15 robins in field, again concentrated in the last 100' of the north end.

Hearing only 1 single hot cannon in distance ... Seems like most growers are monitoring and responding according to actual conditions in the field. Bravo!

1:15 pm

Drove north end of field.

Observed 5 robins, 4 finches, no starlings.

5:45 pm

Grower monitoring.

6:15 pm

Had light rain, with moderate winds out of the south for a while.

Drove north end of field.

Observed 3 finches...that's all. Saw a Coopers hawk over woods and my house circling westward.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Monday, July 28, 2008

July 28 2008

6:45 am

Went over to field, to move JK's. Did not see much bird activity in field when I first arrived.

Moved 4 JK's and eagle.

But within 10-15 min, observed a lot of bird activity. They must have heard me coming, hunkered down, then got back at their breakfast. Pressure is definitely increasing noticeably. Observed 35+ Robins, 25 Starlings, 7 Purple finches, 2 Gold finches, of which, most were going to and from my woods. Double DRAT! Predominate activity in north central part of field.

North end squawker still not operating.

Rough-legged hawk perched and watching from my woods (get busy with your raptoring - DUDE!). Robins very persistent no matter what I do to ward them off, even jumping up waving hands, arms, hissing like a snake. Go ahead and laugh, Jay Leno is. However, the Starlings that attempt to arrive and land are much more scared ... After 15 min of my antics, Starlings gone.

Cannons going off to north, north-east and east 7:00-8:30 am, some to north and north-east still going through noon.

Walking some rows and noted one bush area had 10 berries presumably knocked down by a occasional berry here and there. I am noticing as I re-set my JK's, and touch some bushes ever so lightly, berries are dropping.

7:30 am

Much less bird activity...though I still see apprx 20 robins and an occasional starlings now.

7:45 am

Observed 1 Starling with a berry in mouth exiting to my woods; robin activity way down.

7:50- 8:10 am

While still located in the field, I heard my dairy farmer (just west of my house) fire off 2 shotgun shells. Within about 3-minutes, this presumably sent 9 starlings towards the berry field, followed by another 20... then 25 more...then finally 4 tail-end charlies. This all within 4 minutes. My antics scared them off, except for 3 that landed in the south center of field. 6 robins came in from woods about this time, I tried to scare, but never happen, bold devils they are. I hear a lot of starlings in my woods (8;00 am), I think the 300 flock moved there after the shotgun event. 6 starlings exited the field to woods. 5 robins arrived, 3 starlings too. Scared starlings to east side of field, robin undeterred..(8:06), another 6 starlings tried...scared them away. 6 Red wing blackbirds flew overhead, did not land. 5 starlings came, I scared 3 away, 2 flew overhead, 1 exiting. 1 robin exiting now too. 4 starlings exiting. Whew...that was fun!

Between 8:00-12 am

Not a lot of breeze or wind to activate the JK's. They are getting a well-deserved rest...but at the WRONG time!

8:15 am

I left the field to get the Helikites. Observed a couple robins going to/fro my woods.

9:00 am

Deployed 2 Helikites, 1 NW corner full length, 1 north center at 1/2 length.

9:38-10:15 am
One HK had a leak, and the other needed to be let out full length.

11:30 Redeployed leaky HK with new mylar balloon about 1/2 way between woods and field drove metal post and tied to it. Location was a try at disrupting the Interstate traffic of birds to and fro.

Observed a flock of apprx 20 Starlings coming out of field as I was driving to field.

Jk not op...little wind, north squawker not operating.

My Rough-legged hawk is active near and over my woods.

9:10 to 9:45 am

Observations -
2 Vultures working over my woods.
3 Starlings out woods flew north of field at 100' elevation, kept going direct to east woods.
Robins unfazed - 3 in 5 out.
Since deployed HK, only saw starlings leaving apprx 16, and none entering, yet. I think I "trapped" them in when I arrived, and then, they one-by-one chanced an exit.
10:16 am 2 Starlings circled north end of field, cautious, but did land. I scared them off.
10:20 am 18 Starlings exited field. Where did they come from? Did not see them come in!
Vulture circling at south end of field.

11:35 am

On pasture of my dairy farmer to west, observed 5 vultures and 1 immature bald eagle on or over cow placenta, the eagle trying to fly with it in claws, but dropped. Presence of starlings nil, when raptors flying , but they are coming and going right past 1 remaining eagle perched on fence post. Starlings must figure: "Perch now, miss your dinner - me."

12:30 pm

In field with shotgun, I fired once, scared one Starling, but few birds in field right now, or just hanging tight. Activity almost zero. Left field.

4:30 pm

I am monitoring north end of field w/ shotgun. Stood in 40 feet down in rows 6-7.
During 3 separate entry events w/robins (groups of 3-5) I shot (4 times-3 events) near but not at them. Every single robin was unfazed and proceeded to land in the berries. Unreal. This really convincedly demonstrates their "thick" skin, resisting even direct threats as such.

No starlings in field, or near by.

4:35 pm

Heard a dairy farmer to the south-west shoot 2 times...could see a flock of starlings scattering.

Good breeze, JK's active.

4:45 pm

Moved over to apprx 80' from east edge of my woods, shot 2 shots to flush what was there, but little showed itself...a robin or two.

4:53 pm

Observed a few starlings in top of cedar trees. I wasn't quick enough with my shotgun, but 4 of them got past me to the field.

4:57 pm

7 robins launched out of my woods for field, shot near them. Again they were not detered in the least and continued to enter the berry field.

5:50-6:05 pm

Grower monitoring. Flushed 10-15 Starlings as he drove around the north-west corner of field. Honked horn.

6:30-7:00 pm

I went out to monitor and take down the 2 HK's. Stored them in 2 appliance boxes in field. Took 15 min.

Observed 8 starlings which I flushed out of the field by hand claps; saw 25-30 robins coming and going; saw 15 finches leaving.

6:50 pm

I fired 1 shotgun discharge when seeing 9 starlings attempting to enter field, they continued on across field and did not land.

7:00 pm

Considerable reduction in overall bird activity now, 4-6 robins around, no finches, 3 starlings departing .

Busy day.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 27 2008

8:00 to 10:00 am

Grower monitoring field.

4:00 pm

I took out my 2 stunt kites for flight. Practiced near NW corner of field.

Saw one group of 12-15 robins exit north center part of field IN ONE group. I therefore stand to be seeing robins entering and exiting field in a flock or at least a group. Most often they are solo or in 2-3's. But this was informative to me.

5:00 pm

Drove west edge of field.

Observed 3 robins. Seems like the consistent robin pressure is at the north center part of the field - all using my woods for staging and return. DRAT!

5:45-6:30 pm

Grower monitoring, 2 shotgun discharges.

6:20 pm

I observed from my house, as the grower was driving west edge of field (south to north), hawk that looked like a Coopers hawk was flying in searching pattern 5-15 feet off the ground near the grower. Hk was over the grass part of the adjacent field approx. 30 feet west of berries. Interesting.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 26 2008

7:10 am

I moved 7 JK's and the eagle to new locations. Left others because of muddy access on the north. Did some maintenance; separated one of the doubled-up poles into just one bamboo pole...two were just to much for the bottom pole...flexed too much. Took 1 hr.

Observed 26 robins, 4 finches, 2 cedar ww, 2 starlings. 90% of the robins were (when I first arrived) were in the n center field in the rows that were recently and partially picked. Seems like they wer after fruit either dropped or live hanging near or touching the ground.

Grower monitoring 7:30-8:00 am shot 2 screamers, 1 shotgun. I was at the south end of field, he was at north. Saw about 10 robins leave field for woods directly east from gun discharge. When I got to north end about 10 min later, there were about 10 robins still active in that part of field, this including the starlings, which I scared off from the field w/ hand claps.

I noticed the north end squawker is not operating - wonder if this anything to do w/ conc of robins there...will check w/ grower.

Early variety is very ready for picking, only about 5% not ripe, still green!

6:15 am to 8:30...cannons firing off in NE about 3 mi distance.

8:30 am

Observed a flock of apprx 300 starlings in grass field across road near dairy pasture near my house, 1/4 mi due west from berries .

10:30 am

Starlings seem to be gathering & grouping more in flocks. Observed this in area by heifer barn and their congregating on telephone lines near barn.

11:00 am

Grower monitoring field, shot 1 screamer.


I am seeing that flock of 300 Starlings very active in and around manure lagoon across road from my house.

6:30 pm

North county cannons active since 8:30 am, one triple-shooter just started up to west 3-4 miles...Axling rd?


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 25 2008

7:15 am

Was going to drive north end of field but dairy farm just north was irrigating on the dirt roadway, with so much water-it was a river. I had go on grass to avoid getting stuck. Drove through to east road.

Observed a good # of robins but couldn't count for getting stuck.

Called grower to inform situation with water and robins. Recommend taking some screamers.

7:25 am

Observed 1 Rough-legged hawk on tele pole 1/4 mi se of field.

4:20 pm

Observed 200 starlings in or around dairy manure lagoon next to my house, quite active.

4:30 pm

Drove west side of field. Saw no birds. Probably robins were on ground.

5:30-6;00 pm

Grower monitoring...shot 2 screamers and 2 shotgun.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lessons Learned So Far

I can not tell you how much I appreciate my blueberry grower neighbor! He has been very considerate and thoughtful in how he has managed bird predation in his field. I know other neighbors nearby are thankful too.

Thank YOU my friend!

So what have we learned so far?

1. Starling flocks have not presented themselves in this field. Some have flown over or around...but only a handful have actually been in the field.
2. Birds that are in the field engaged in predation are Robins, Purple Finches, Cedar Waxwings and some American Gold Finches. Observable numbers range from 10-30 at any given time.
3. Most bird pressure, by the above, occurs between 6:30-8:30 am, and 5:00-7:30 pm. There is some on-going pressure mid-day, but substantially less.
4. These birds and this level of predation pressure has been characterized by other growers as insignificant, and nothing to worry about.
5. No cannons have been used. Screamers have been used in very restrained amounts. JacKites have been deployed for all but a few of the last 24-days. Helikites were deployed for only a few days and removed, stored in wait of changing conditions. Bird distress "squawkers" have been operating during daylight hours for the past 24-days.
6. The presence of natural raptors (hawks, eagles) remains nearby, active and numerous. The combination of artificial and natural raptor objects and sounds has been very complementary.
7. The grower has been very diligent with personally monitoring his field at the two high activity times.
8. The grower used reasonable measures in response to attempt to deal with the song bird presence, i.e., a few screamers, and one shotgun discharge.

With deploying an ever-changing number and configuration of natural-looking raptors, varying their location and concentration; with regular in-field monitoring and measured response to bird pressure; and with an acceptance (albeit reluctant) that some berry loss to song birds is inevitable - the past 30-days have been an unqualified success. In my judgment, the only way to improve in warding off the song birds, would be the use of Migrate or sugar; or using netting.

Now, this could all change in a heart-beat...and hoards of Starlings could appear in very damaging numbers. This is a very distinct possibility. We shall see.

Yet, for now, this has been good for both the grower and his neighbors. I trust all are satisfied. I know I am.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 24 2008

8:00 am

Hearing multiple cannons operating in distance (3-4 miles) to the NE, NW, W and SE. Most are triple-shooters.

No human activity in the field.

9:00 am

I monitored the north end of the field for about 15 minutes.

Observed 3 robins, 1 finch and no Starlings. I did see 3 Starlings diagonally fly over the field from SE corner to NW corner, not landing in the field, but did land in my woods.

[more to follow....]

July 23 2008

No "night" cannons going off last night.

1:00 pm

Observed a Turkey vulture circling over the NW corner of the berry field...moving SW.

3:30 pm

Observed a Cooper's hawk with a kill in my birch tree which flew over the road to neighbor's maple tree.

4:00 pm

Observed a vulture and a Rough-legged hawk circling over my house, moving SW.

5:15 pm

Observed 3 Rough-legged hawks circling and landing over and in my woods.

6:15 pm

Drove perimeter of field. Took 15 minutes.

Observed 12 robins, 7 finches, no starlings.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

July 22 2008

8:00 am

Noticed that the blueberry pickers are back.

A dairy operation is injecting liquid manure in a field immediately adjacent to the north end of the blueberry field. We'll see if this attracts large numbers of Starlings. Makes me nervous.

"My" 2 Rough-legged hawks are working over my woods and surroundings, very vocal.

12 - Noon

All pickers gone.

Went over to move some of the JacKites to new positions and tie up a large pole that was slipping...will finish this tonight. Took 15 minutes.

Observed a mixed group of ~25 or so robins and finches flushing up out of the north central part of the field not picked. They flew a bit and re-landed on the ground.

In the rows that were just picked, there is a fair amount of ripe and green berries on the ground beneath the bushes. I am not sure what the efficiencies are with handpicking and their losses, but it looked like about 5-8%. I inspected a number of them thinking they were bird pecked, but none were. Probably just knocked of by normal hand picking action...nothing you can do about that.

Noticably quiet from cannon usage, last night and this morning.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Another Confirmation of Positive Impact?

I learned of a blueberry grower up in BC (Abbotsford) who purchased 12 Peregrine JacKites, and recently put them up in his fields. I thought I should call so as learn what was happening since their deployment up there.

Their feedback: "Well we don't know what's going on, but the Starlings just keep flying overhead not landing." "We can't say it's one thing or the other, but we pray, regularly monitor the field, JacKites are working, and we shoot a screamer from time-to-time."

"We hear from other nearby growers saying 'the starlings are more numerous than last year'. But we find they are leaving us alone."

I shared what we were experiencing in my area and field - namely almost no Starlings in the field (6 counted to-date by me), a consistent presence of 10-15 robins, with added finches. The grower commented that what "song birds take is nothing compared to Starlings...and not to fret over this minimal loss."

Use this as FYI.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 21 2008

5:00 am

South squawker is on...earlier than usual. Walked out toward the field from my house, more as a morning walk than anything. No bird activity or sounds at all! But coming back around 5:20 am, I observed 6 robins flying out of my backyard to my woods. I'll bet I know where they are going.

6:45 am

Drove the north line of the field and the west line.

Observed 15 robins, 3 finches, and 1 Starling. One group (10-11) of robins were in one flock or grouping, flying out of the field going to my woods. The other 4 robins were coming into the field as individuals. Seeing this group of robins was the first time I've seen robins flock.

6:55 am

Cannons going off to the NE off in the distance 3-4 miles.

7:00 am

Grower's pickers arriving enmasse.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

July 20 2008

1:00 am

1 or 2 cannons going off every 4-5 minutes. Sounds like they are approx. 4 miles away.

3:30 am

Same cannons still going off.

7:30 am

I went out to the field, moved the eagle to the center-center of the field. Dispersed the JK's to the SW and NW corners, with some at the N and S ends. Took 45 minutes.

Met the grower in the field, who was monitoring.

Observed around 11 robins, 12 finches and no Starlings.

Looks like the early variety (center rows) are about 90-95% blue-ripe. Later variety just turning.

7:00-8:30 am

Lots of cannons going off, most are triple-shooters. At 8:30 am they all turned off.

10:15 am

Sa a Rough-legged hawk roosting on a telephone pole 3/4 mile SW of field.

10:45 am

Observed "my" hawk active and vocal around my woods.
"My Hawk"

11:00 am

Hearing cannons off 4-5 miles to the NE I think, single shooters. I think they are in Canada.

11:30 am

Observed a flock of 15 Starlings transit west to east over my property, toward the north end of the blueberry field. Looked like they wanted to land in the field, glided, but continued on to a large tree 400 feet east of the field

12 - noon

Grower setting out flats for start of picking tomorrow.

12:15 pm

Observed 1 Rough-legged hawk fly from the area of the field, to a telephone pole 1/4 mile due east. "My" hawk and it are vocalizing back and forth.

3:30 pm

"My" hawk is across my road, playing or whatever with another Rough-legged hawk, and now both are roosting on irrigation pipe...they are very vocal.

5:30 pm

Drove the perimeter of the blueberry field. Took 15 min.

Observed 3 robins, 1 finch, and no Starlings.

6:30-8:00 pm

Grower monitoring the field, fired off 2 screamers.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 19 2008

6:45 am

I went out and moved 7 JK's, and moved the Bald Eagle to the very NW corner of the field. Took 30.

Observed, that the early variety (west rows) is about 75% ripe-blue.

Observed, 11 robins, 1 finch, no Starlings.

Observed, 1 Rough-legged hawk 1/4 mile west flying above the road heading north. Later I think s/he perched on a telephone pole 1/2 mile NW of field.

Observed a flock of 40-60 Starlings landing in a section of a field recently injected with liquid manure. They were 1/2 mile north of the berry field. Did not see any Starlings in or near the berry field.

8:30-10:30 am

Grower monitoring field, fired 1 screamer at 9:15 am.

10:15 am

Met grower in field, saying he saw some birds earlier, but none now. I agreed. He says, Monday they will start hand-picking with 25-30 field laborers.

11:40 am

Vulture checking out a new thing I am trying at the NW corner of the field. More on this later.

Approx 25 Starlings flew from dairy farm nearby to my woods.

12:30 pm

Approx 50 Starlings flew into my woods; I shot at them, they scattered, but re-landed in the woods shortly afterward.

1:00 pm

Observed a solitary Bald Eagle south of the field about 500 feet, transiting rapidly east to west at about 600 feet elevation.

5:00 pm

I went to the field to check the eagle JK. Observed no birds of any kind in the field.

5:15 pm

Observed "my" Rough-legged hawk in my woods go after Starlings that were roosting at the tops of the cedar trees. S/he was quite agressive, with pronounced vocals. This got the Starlings broke up and scattered. Vocals really compliment the squawker.

6:00-7:20 pm

Grower monitoring field. Fired off 1 screamer.

7:00+ pm

Cannons being fired NW of my area. Sounds like triple-shooters.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 18 2008

4:30-6:45 pm

Grower monitoring field. Fired off 1 screamer and 1 shotgun discharge.

Reflection: Not because of the above, but am feeling nervous that we've used the JacKites and squawkers plenty, if not too much. Wondering, if habituation is just around the corner. We'll see.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

July 17 2008

7:45 am

I moved the Bald Eagle JK north to the west-center of the field; moved 5 JK's south, and one to north center end. This makes it look like the other JK's have given the eagle wide spacing. Took 30 minutes.

Grower monitoring. Fired off 6 screamers between 8:15-9:00 am.

Observed 7 robins, 4 finches, 1 Cedar wax wing, no Starlings. Saw flock of 20 Starlings fly in to trees near my house.

I am hearing some Lp cannons going off in the distance...nothing nearby.

7:15 pm

Grower monitoring fieild, shot off 1 screamer.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

July 16 2008

7:30 am

Grower monitoring field and firing off 2 "screamers" from the north end (7:30-7:45 am). Grower still monitoring at 9 am.

The Bald Eagle JK is working very well, watched it from a distance...looks very realistic.

11:45 am

At lunch, I moved the Eagle to far SW corner of the field.

Observed, 4 robins, 2 finches, no Starlings; and 2 Rough-legged hawks dive-bombing 2 REAL Bald Eagles about 500 feet south of the berry field.

Here's a video of what the "fake" JacKite eagle looks in action; and the hawk/eagle fight.

It was hard to believe that this was happening so close to the JacKite eagle. What do you think? Why?

4:00 pm

Took note that a dairy just applied manure (injected) to a field north of the blueberries about 800 feet. Warned grower of possible influx of Starlings. Appreciated this. Grower also said, "There are no birds, earlier in the day."

7:30 pm

Grower monitoring.

Bald Eagle JK looks real good.

11:45 pm

Someone is shooting off a triple-shot cannon every 2 minutes, sounds like it is about 3-4 miles distant. Unreal!


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 15 2008

12:15 pm

Deployed one Bald Eagle JacKite at the very south end of the field. Then moved 4 JK's north, away from the Eagle. This to make it look like the hawks gave this eagle some space. Also did some maintenance on a couple JK's All this took 45 minutes. Here's a couple pictures. Video to follow in subsequent posting.

The Bald Eagle JK has great flight and movement. Wings beat slower, looks very realistic. Depending on wind speed, it rises and falls in elevation that is dramatic, at times flying higher than the 31' fiberglass pole it is attached to.

Observed 7 robins, 4 finches, no Starlings.

Several times today, observed the Rough-legged pair on telephone poles 1/4 mile direct west of field.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Monday, July 14, 2008

July 14 2008

6:45 am

Went out and moved JK's so the west row has a concentration. Also added one more JK I found in my garage. I think that means we have 20 in the field. Took 45 min.

Observed: 7 robins w/ 5 more on the very southern end of the field, saw around 11 finches. No Starlings.

The early variety of blueberry (can't remember the name) is around 45-55% ripe blue.

9:00 am

Observed: a pair of Rough-legged hawks resting on telephone poles directly west of the field, about 1/4 mi away. Likely the same pair we've been sighting recently.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 13 2008

11:50 am

Saw a flock of approx. 300 Starlings launching up out of a manure lagoon 2 miles to the south. and landing in nearby trees by dairy barns.

Grower in field, monitoring. No actions taken.

I decided to leave the number and configuration of JK's the same as yesterday. I will change tomorrow morning.

4:00 pm

Flew a stunt kite near the NW corner of the field. [See pictures and video]

Yes I know, you think this is pretty silly. Perhaps. Again you must remember the axiom: "You've got to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the birds..."? Can't fly a sink, but I can a kite. Think about getting some 12-14 year olds out flying these things twice a week (depending on wind). Encourage, nurture, even pay them to have fun! Perhaps this one more tool in your arsenal will be of value. I know I had fun. Also taught my daughter how to fly too.

During this one hour, I observed 1 robin and no Starlings.

5:30-9:00 pm

Grower working on maintanence items in field and monitoring.

7:30 pm

I went over to catch-up on things with grower, and inform I was going to change the configuration of JK's tomorrow morning.

Grower happily stated, "There are NO birds." We both commented that it seems the JK's are working. Grower very happy.

There were some birds present, but the grower was pleased, even though I observed: 5 robins, 1 finch, and 5 Starlings. All were entrying and exiting field to my woods.

Earlier this afternoon a flock of 50 Starlings landed in a tree by my house. I shot 5-6, with the rest scattering.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 12 2008

7:00 am

Grower monitoring field. Shot off 4-5 "screamers". Grower remaining in the field until around 11:30 am, patroling on a motorbike.

1:00 pm

I went over to the field, no one there.

Observed 1 finch and 1 robin, both at the north end of the field. No Starlings.

3:00 pm

Observation: no Starlings in field and no sign or activity by them in my area. Saw a Rough-legged hawk entering a cell phone tower 1 mile to the south, a nest was built and used to raise offspring last year.

Reflection: With the diminished presence of Starlings, I am wondering if the number of hawks around are indeed having an impact?

Observation: a lot of Barn swallows were active over the blueberries and adjacent fields, seeing more in or near the fields than last few years.

7:30 pm

Observed, a flock of approx. 40 Starlings flying east to west high and north of the field, into my woods. JK's flying, but wind diminishing.

Reflection: I have decided not to deploy the HK's anymore, not until the presence and pressure by Starlings mounts.

Grower applied fungicide applied in evening.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Mountain or Mole Hill?

What's the impact of song birds (excluding Starlings) on blueberry fruit losses? I ask this because I have observed some growers who are, in my opinion, over reacting to the presence of such birds in their fields. This reaction, again in my opinion, significantly risks creating habituation conditions for the main villains: hoards of Starlings.

We need to know what the song birds contribute to fruit losses. And we need to know what these losses compare to as to the field's standing inventory of berries.

So on the field I have been working, this is what I have discovered and observed.

There are 17 rows (1300 feet) with 6621 older plants, each averaging 1146 blueberries per plant.
There are 25 rows (600 feet) with 4062 older plants, each averaging 1146 blueberries per plant.
There are 10 rows (1300 feet) with 2665 younger plants, each averaging 688 blueberries per plant.

[Yes, I know you're asking: "Did you count all those berries?" Nope. I did count the berries on 5 representative plants...and then factored up from there. Yes, I know, scientifically that was not technically a statistical sample. My effort was not preciseness, but more of just getting a sense of scale. If someone want's a "Florida recount", be my guest and we'll re-crunch the numbers.]

With that being said, we find the following:
First group has 7,587,666 blueberries
Second group has 4,655,052 blueberries
Third group has 1,833,520 blueberries
Total equalling a 14,076,238 blueberry standing inventory as of 7/11/2008.

We now have some idea for how many berries are in the field, to which we can compare the percentage of losses by song birds (again excluding Starlings).

I have been in this field every day, multiple times (as this blog site shows), and have been recording bird observations (type and number). Choosing yesterday's observations, there were between 5:30-7:00 pm:
8 - Robins
5 - Purple finches
3 - Ceder waxwings
A total of 16 birds.

Do I think this represents all the song birds visiting the field on this day? No. Of course there were more. So let's assume there were 6 times more birds (16 x 6=96 song birds).

So with the 96 birds, we need to estimate the numerical loss of berries per bird. Who knows this? Perhaps Einstein or Rachel Carson. Short of having emperical data on such, let's assume each bird eats, destroys or removes 10 berries from this field per day. The math indicates that 960 berries are lost per day.

With this, what then are the percentage losses as compared to the field's standing inventory?

Okay some big number crunching now: 960 divided by 14,076,238 = 0.0000682 or 0.00682% loss per day. If these losses continue for a 50-day season, we discover 0.0031 or 0.31% loss per growing season.

Now let's say I am way off on how many actual song birds are really in the field; and, how many actual berries they destroy per day.

Say there were 200 song birds present yesterday, who each destroyed 20 berries each per day. This equates to 4,000 blueberries loss per day.

Again big (or is it small) number crunching, 4000 divided by 14,076,238 = 0.000284 or 0.0284% loss per day. For the 50-day season, we have 0.0142 or 1.42% loss per growing season.

So we can see that within reason, this field can expect between 0.31% and 1.42% losses from song birds this season.

My point, what am I driving at? It is my contention when a blueberry grower over reacts to very limited song bird predation pressure, and deploys ANY repellent device or strategy, ramped up as if the field is being overrun, he risks the danger of setting habituative conditions that may very soon come back to haunt him (i.e., hoards of Starling flocks).

Putting out loud, explosive devices at this stage in bird pressure is unwarranted. It really is a "Making a Mountain out of a Mole Hill". It's a "Majoring on minors vs majoring on majors".

Additionally, I challenge the level of effectiveness of these or ANY devices on repelling song birds, this from my own multi-season in-field observations.

And lastly, really is it worth it to press nearby people and neighbors with the loud, startling noise, when fruit losses are very minor? And this particularly in-light of the fact that current machine picking losses are around 10% as fruit falls between the picker to the ground!

Stuff for thought and reflection. Hope it contributes to better understanding.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Friday, July 11, 2008

How Much is Too Much?

I have talked with various growers over the past several years, and observed in-field practices as associated with their timing and length of deployment of Lp cannons, and now non-cannon alternatives. Have conversed with both US and north of the border growers.

It is my judgment that all blueberry growers (large or small operations) are nervous about what's gonna ruin my yield. Could be insect, fungus, hail, drought, freezing or birds, etc. Having invested A LOT into their venture, this is completely understandable. I'd be there right with them if I were a grower too.

However, when it comes to applications of chemicals or fertilizers, the manufacturer provides fairly precise instructions as to proper dosages, considerations of environmental conditions (rain, wind, etc), signs of infection/predation, and so on.

When it comes to bird predation, there is no such "proper dosages" instructions or even guidelines.

Really, there is very little help that has come forth from anyone remotely associated with the small fruit industry, that is instructive. Rather, what has been "out there" for years, has been, set up the cannons, turn them on early morning to late evening, 24/7 on a regular basis - hope this works.

Okay today, we now have enough anecdotal testimony from a wide spectrum of sources, which clearly suggests cannons only work for a limited period of time. If put on "auto" 24/7 whether there is Starling pressure or not, this convincely leads to habituative conditions...the birds are desensitized and invade the berries wantingly.

Guess what, these habituative conditions can also occur with man-made alternatives to cannons. Oh yes, my wonderful Helikites and JacKites can suffer the same fate...they become non-threatening with over use. Same is precisely true with the array of distress (squawkers) boxes.

So all this begs the question: Then what is a wise grower to do?

1. Other than putting up nets resulting in 100% effectiveness, the grower will by common-sense just have to accept some losses due to bird predation. Why? [oh BTW, some growers in Whatcom Co. are seriously considering nets for next year est. cost @ $1,500/acre, 10-year life]
2. Related, appreciating that nothing on the face of this earth will keep ALL birds of ALL species ALL the time from predation of SOME of the fruit. This is a fact. So it's a matter of "acceptable" losses.
3. Having the above reality-check, it behooves the grower to have a comprehensive Bird Management Plan,that encompasses a wide, diverse array of approaches which addresses "unacceptable losses". As a wise approach deploying the Plan's elements with reasoned discipline -- this is key!
4. This "reasoned discipline" will help counter the normal reactive action to start cannons or deploy any alternative so as to "just feel good that I'm doing something to protect my fields." If the birds are not there, or if birds are inflicting losses that are minimal, or if there are bird species present known not to respond, it is less than prudent (unwise) to deploy repellent strategies in such a way and thereby over reacting that leads to habituative conditions.
5. One must be in the field often enough to observe actual conditions. No birds: shut down or take down. Light pressure: deploy just enough strategies on an "as needed basis". It is incumbent the grower to respond to actual conditions vs. perceived conditions.
6. Prior to threatening pressure, it is imperative that a "just enough" approach be the rule. This means to only pull out the quiet alternatives first, on a limited, non-repetitive basis.
7. Also get on the "front side of the wave". This means to be earnestly observing first and light signs of real pressure, and then respond with #6 above. Don't let things (as far as Starlings are concerned) get too far along, so "flock knowledge" creates a "shark feeding frenzy". But don't over react either.

In summary, I am suggesting consideration and implementation of 1-7 above as a way that will help fill that void of what to do when it comes to really effective bird repellents.

I am sure we will learn more this season...but I hope this helps anyone who is willing to approach this issue with something other than a "blast-at-will" perspective.

I am also sure (humble as I am) that I am not the final, authorative voice on such matters. I am only one person who has some experience and knowledge to pass on. I consider this a "for what it is worth" thing for anyone listening. Hope it helps.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Helikites in Action

If you want to see several Vigilante Helikits in action, click on the video below. This device comes from Allsopp Helikites Ltd (England). Go to: for more info.

In the second scene, you will see a Helikite, a JacKite and hear in the background a squawker - three concurrent devices.

The Helikite comes with five 38" Mylar balloons, one kite and accessories, some spare items. The five balloons should provide the grower between 3-5 years of use. The kite itself is ripstop nylon and should give you at least 5-years. Cost is around $250-$275 US.

It is easy to assemble, takes about 1/2 hour.

As to the helium, you can go 2 ways: take it into town and have it both filled and later topped off at like a grocery store; or, rent a small helium tank with dispenser valve, so you can do all this in the field. I did the first approach last year -- a hassle. Am doing the second this year -- sweet and convenient. A "40" tank costs about $40 for rental and gas for a 2-month period. This will fill up a bunch of balloons and have enough for topping off.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 11 2008

5:00 am

I put out the 2 Helikites, one at each end of the field, thus separating them considerably from yesterday. Took 15 minutes.

Also, all the JacKites and the 2 squawkers will be active throughout the day.

Observed 3 robins, 1 finch, no Starlings.

6:00 pm

Took down deflating HK and inserted new 38" Mylar balloon. Did not fill up or deploy just yet. Also took down the other HK and stored in cardboard box.

Moved and thus concentrated a number of JK's a the NW corner of the field. This because I observed consistent entry and exit for this part of the field to my woods. The other entry point (robins) to a minor degree is from the SE corner. Took 20 minutes.

Observed approx. 8 robins and 5 Starlings.


REMEMBER: The Starling is the villain. It is not the grower.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

July 10 2008

5:00 am

I put up the 2 Helikites. Placed a bit more north and west from yesterday. There is one JacKite still up which I did not get down yesterday. Left squawkers off. I will put up all JacKites tonight and then turn squawkers on set to run tomorrow. Took 15 minutes.

Observed a few robins and 1 Cedar waxwing.

9:00 am

Visited with the grower in the field. He indicated he did not think the Helikites were working, so turned one squawker on. I asked if the Starlings were a problem. He indicated that it was mostly the 15 or so "small birds", I thing finches. I did not see one Starling in or near the field. There were a few robins.

Reflection: There is still some good communicating and learning needed by us all. A question I have is, if the real culprit (large flocks of Starlings) are substantially defeated, but a few small birds inflict some damage, have we won or not? If we react to the small impacts by a this limited number of non-Starling birds, and run the various devices w/o change or alteration, my fear is this sort of "crying wolf" will desensitize the situation and thus create a habituation condition where large impacts result.

6:15 pm

Drove the perimeter of the field, observed only 1 Starling (eastern most row) 10-15 robins and 6-10 finches.

With the help of the grower, we put up all the JacKites around the perimeter of the field. So tomorrow, all the JK will be up, the 2 Helikites and the 2 squawkers running. This took around 3/4 hour for each of us. A bit longer than could have been, but I was training the grower in how I did things.

From 6-7:30 pm I observed 10-15 robins, about the same number of finches, and no Starlings.

Observed a pair of Rough-legged Hawks about 3/4 mile NW of the field...probably the same pair we are seeing regularly.

The grower and I spent a good amount of time talking about the nature of habituation; and whether there is much that can be done to repel robins and finches. My advice from experience and reading, is little can be done to keep those sort of song birds away...they are very persistent and resilient to virtually all that is thrown at them (except perhaps if using Migrate or sugar applications affecting sensory taste). Also talked about putting into perspective a majoring on the majors, not the minors. This meaning if we are successful with warding off Starlings, and a few robins and a few finches prey on the fruit, then it is best not to overreact, by deploying all the devices all the time to try to get a few birds away, this will surely invite the hoards of Starlings via habituation conditions.


REMEMBER: The Starling is the villain. It is not the grower.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July 9 2008

9:50 am

I assembled 2 Helikites. Took 1 hour. Filled these Helikites and deployed in the field, each about 1/4 way in from the south end and north end. Took 20 minutes.

Took all but one of the JacKites down. Set poles and birds up under the blueberry bushes. Took 35 minutes.

Observed on flock of about 12 Starlings taking off and landing in the north/center part of the field. There were no JacKites near that area. Not sure that would have mattered?

Observed 10-15 robins coming and going from the field. Most were returning to my woods.

Observed 10-15 Purple finches, and 1 Cedar Waxwing.

I hope to get the squawkers syncronized (turned on and off) with the putting up and taking down of the JacKites, this to link their bird of prey sounds with the JacKites.

Reflection: I am not sure, but I feel like the squawkers and JacKites were up too long in one deployment stretch. Squawkers were started on the 3rd and running into today the 9th (7-days). The JacKites were up on the 4th and took down today (6-days). It's a hunch, but I think they both should have been shut/took down after 4-days of operation, and restarted after 1 or 2 days. Anyway...we're now starting to rotate the various devices and their location placements.

Ripening berries are increasing faster now.

7:00 pm

Turned off squawkers, and took down the 2 Helikites. Took 30 minutes.

Observed around 15-20 robins, and 10-15 finches in the field. No Starlings.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

July 8 2008

3:30 pm

Observed ~20 Starlings 1 1/2 mile south near dairy barns.
Observed 1 Rough-legged Hawk flying 1 mile south...heading south.
Observed 1 Rough-legged Hawk perched on telephone pole 3/4 mile south.
Observed no Starlings in or near the blueberry field. There were 7 sitting on the roof of the barn near my house.

5:00 pm

Drove along north end of blueberry field, saw 1 Robin and 1 Starling.

Reassembled and staged 2 large cardboard boxes in field for when Helikites need to be taken down. Took 15 minutes.


REMEMBER: The Starling is the villain. It is not the grower.

Monday, July 7, 2008

What About Robins?

Obviously, my main focus has been on the Starling as the central blueberry culprit. Since it primarily arrives in the berry field for feeding in what could be large numbers (flocks), it does the most damage.

But anyone will recognize robins are present too. They inflict considerably less damage or consumption of blueberries. This mostly because they are not a flocking bird...they come and go as individuals. Also they seem not to hang around for long. They come, snatch a berry and fly off. Starlings are more damaging because not only do they consume and remove fruit, they also puncture the fruit's skin for the flesh and juice, leaving the damaged fruit behind. Robins don't seem to do that as much.

The number of robins putting pressure on the field is far less as well. Yet they do take fruit.

So what will repel them? My experience from the past 3-growing seasons suggests -very little!
I have not seen one thing keep them at bay. Even Lp cannons are useless after about a day or so. I have seen robins perching on the next row-post near a "triple-shot" cannon going off, and they sit tight. Equally so, the use of JacKites or Helikites repels in limited ways.

The only thing I have heard that will work is using sprays (Migrate ; or sugar) that cause pain in their mouths.

One grower simply resigned himself to, "Well you know, the birds have to eat too." He figured he can't prevent total losses, only minimize the major ones from Starlings.


REMEMBER: The Starling is the villain. It is not the grower.

JacKite Setup

You've seen the video of the JacKites in operation. I thought I would get some pictures to you to show how I attached this device to a bamboo or fiberglass pole. See the sequence and narration below.

I attach the JacKite to the pole via a 10# monofilament line with a leader line using swivels at both ends. The leader helps hold the line away from the pole, thus preventing twisting. The swivels allow the kite free reign of movement. Attaching the leader line as per the following really helps keep the line from pulling off the pole in high winds.

A piece of duct tape is readied for one end of the leader line.

Next I lay the leader line across the duct tape.

I wrap one time around the pole.

Now I loop the leader line back across the tape, whereby the leader is now exiting the top of the pole.

Next I will continue the duct tape around the pole and the leader line. Leave an extra loop in the leader on the down pole side. Now the line is pretty much secure from being pulled off the pole...but....

This extra loop will be secured as per the following.

Now just keep wrapping the duct tape around the pole to secure the loop. This is double assurance the line will not slip out in strong winds.

That's done.

And now you're almost done.

Now attach a fishing swivel to the leader end, secure and lock.

From the swivel you will attach the monofilament line which is attached to the JacKite with its own swivel.

The length of monofilament line should be only long enough to keep the JacKite from snagging on the bushes or row post.

Happy flying!


REMEMBER: The Starling is the villain. It is not the grower.

JacKites In Action

As stated in an earlier post, I have assembled and deployed 15 "Peregrine" JacKites along the perimeter, with the grower deploying 2 more in the center of the field.

I thought it would useful for this blog's readers to see what these devices look like and how they work.

Here is a video of what it looks like in actual conditions.


REMEMBER: The Starlings are the villain. It is not the grower.

July 7 2008

9:30 am

Again sightings and sounds of Starlings is nil within 1/2 mile of the field. Saw 3 south about 1 mile.

A Rough-legged hawk was sighted on the ground in an adjacent grass field, presumably after a mouse/vole or whatever. This hawk pair seem to much more active the past few days. My guess is they are feeding young in a nest in my woods.

All 17 JacKites operational and flying. Squawker operating.

1:00 pm

Saw the hawk pair soaring the adjacent fields for prey. Saw only a couple Starlings and this by a dairy barn nearby.

6:00 pm

Moved most of the JK's to different locations - the purpose to keep changing things so Starlings do not get used to the field conditions. This took 20 minutes.

Readied applicance cardboard boxes in the field for Helikite storage during night and down time. Took 10 minutes.

Saw only one Purple Finch and one Robin in the field. Saw 10 Starlings on the telephone lines near barn near my house. Other than that, no Starlings.

8:30 pm

No Starlings near or on field. Few even in or near adjecent fields.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

July 6 2008

12 - Noon

Noticed that one of my "double-decker" bamboo poles was bending down. Went out and replaced it with a 31' fiberglass JacKite pole. I had spliced two bamboo poles together to make a longer pole, but the bottom one was too small, weak.

Also noticed that a number of the Peregrine JacKites were splitting open at the "breastbone". I suspected this would happen, since I errantly squeezed the fiberfill "guts" and inserted when I put the birds together yesterday. This caused the fill to expand and push the bird open. I pulled the bird apart and reset everything.

Installed one more Peregrine, and used another 31' fiberglass pole. Put this bird up on the center of the eastern most row.

1. There were 5-7 Robins on the ground near the western most row when I first arrived.
2. Did not see any Starlings in or near the field. In-fact, I did not see any even in or flying over nearby fields. Only as I was leaving I heard a hawk screeching and then saw the hawk fly by my woods, then 15 Starlings flew east over to the trees across the blueberry field and road. They flew high and wide of the JK's. Other than that, it is remarkably quiet in-terms of evidence of Starlings presence.
3. I learned from the grower a couple days ago, that the field is comprised of 2 blueberry varieties. One ripens early the other later. The western most rows have zero (0) evidence of any signs of ripening. This is the bulk of the total field. The center, short rows have about 1% ripe, with 2% ripening. The eastern most rows have zero (0) evidence of ripening. The reason the squawkers and 2 JK's were put up and started by the grower was because a couple of the center row berries showed evidence of predation.

My concern is that habituation will set in soon if the repellent approaches are not substantially altered, changed or shut down. If all this anti-Starling action is happening this early (pre-ripening), then by the time most of the field is ripe, Starlings will be desensitized.

If the substantial decrease of the presence of Starlings today is due to the JK's and squawkers, that's good. Perhaps just shutting down the squawkers and taking down the JK's for a couple days will be wise. Then we could restart again, and then begin the 50-day plan's schedule.

So this issue now seems to be "at precisely what stage in berry ripening is it wise to start the repellents?" Is it possible to start the Starling repellents too soon?

5-8 pm

Again the number of Starlings is remarkably low. Only saw that flock of 15.


REMEMBER: The Starling is the villain. It is not the grower.

July 5 2008

Since the grower was starting his repellent efforts, I thought it time to assemble and deploy the 14 Peregrine JacKites (JK's).

So I assembled 14 JK's (took 1 1/2 hr). Setup the bamboo poles with fishing swivels and leader line (took 1 hr). Then deployed the 14 JK's around the perimeter of the field (took 1 3/4 hr).

I put more of the JK's on the western most row, since that seems to be the main entrance from 2 sets of woods 1/4 mile apart (one to the south and one to the woods).

It was quite a windy day and all the JK's did well. Will come back tomorrow to see if anything will need alteration or fixing.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Last Year

Last year was a success.

During 2006, two “3-Shot” Lp cannon units (each firing separately) emitted over 52,000 explosions between late June and early August. As a contrast, last year’s 2007 season, use of cannons was reduced to less than 1,500 explosions - a 93% reduction. Also cannon use went from a 6 am-8 pm, 7-day/week throughout the whole season for 2006, to 8:30 am-11:30 am on only 4-days for 2007.


We think it was due to a number of things.

First the prior winter was a harsh one. We had quite a wind, snow and single digit degree period in November 2006. My guess is a good percentage of Starlings died, or when elsewhere.

Second, we (the grower and myself) chose to use a couple objects that were recommended to me by blueberry growers. We deployed 10 “Peregrine” JacKites and 2 “Vigilante” Helikites throughout the 10-acre field. More on these devices in a subsequent posting.

Third, we altered to some extent, the location and frequency of the devices during the ripening period. This addressed the issue of habituation.

Fourth, the grower was much more open to the concept that "We're just not going to prevent every bird from visiting the field." He realized he would loose a certain percentage and would have to accept this as a reality.

Fifth, there were a few more field workers in the field for a longer period of time during ripening. Their presence helped.

What a remarkable thing this was. An almost complete reduction of Lp cannons! The summer was joyous. Dread of what was going to start at 6 am and run all day long, subsided. You could go into the garden or woods or the fields nearby, without being blasted every 3-minutes.

Okay that was last year. Now we have this year to contend with.

My plan is with my blueberry grower neighbor, to develop a 50-Day Starling Management Plan. It will deploy the "kites" and other devices on an every-other-day or every 3-day basis. We will alter the number, location, configuration of the devices on a frequent basis, this to keep the Starlings wary, preventing habituation.

So in subsquent posts on Creative Alternatives to Lp Cannons, I hope to offer a chronological description with what happens, what we do, and what the observed results may be. I will try to keep track of Starling behavior activity (before and during deployment), environmental, the amount of time it takes to do the Plan, and other things.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower!

July 4 2008

3:00 pm

Noticed one JacKite up on the field. Went over to see what was happening. My first thoughts were that this was way too soon to put any of the devices up.

However, when I got there I met with the grower and he said the pressure was starting, mostly coming from the southwest corner. Sure enough I saw evidence that some berries were being eaten or punctured for the fruit.

There is only 1 out of 500 that are close to ripe. The other 498 are small and green.

So this is a new development and new behavior I have not seen before. Perhaps, with the crop being so late, the few berries that are ripe are highly valued by the Starlings at this time of the season...which is late.

The grower deployed 2 Osprey JacKites in the center of the field, with 2 squawker boxes.

The grower asked if I would help deploy the 14 other JacKites, and Helikites. I will try to do this either Sunday or Monday.

Reflection: I normally would not want to deploy any repellant just yet...seems way to early. However, if the issue is trying to get on top of things as soon as first predation occurs (when the "scout" birds) show up, then responding at this time is consistent with the principle of responding at first nibble. The grower also said this seems early, but predation and pressure is happening.


REMEMBER: The villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Migrate for Ag

As mentioned in my last post "Starling Managment Plan...", I would like to try to use the product called Migrate for Agriculture.

According to the manufacturer (Rejex-it) this "makes treated cherries, grapes and blueberries unpalatable to birds. It works as a sensory repellent and irritates the mouth and stomach of birds who try to ingest the treated berries, without causing adverse physiological reactions in the birds. Rejex-it® Migrate™ for Agriculture works because it affects the behavior while causing no actual harm to the bird." [For more visit]

I personally received several positive testimonies from blueberry growers in Hillsboro, Oregon stating this product indeed does work.

Some suggest it can be expensive. I think this will depend on how one views Migrate's overall effectiveness (what it saves from fruit predation).

So instead of spraying it on every plant in every row on every acre, I would like to suggest the following application:
1. Spray alternative row-post segments. Because each row has posts evenly spaced that serve to support wire, watering systems, we would spray every other segment of posts. Thus that particular row would be treated by 1/2.
2. Spray only the first and second perimeter rows. Often Starling "scout birds" encroach into the field by testing things from the outside-in, thus landing and feeding on rows at the edge of the field. We would spray (as per above), but only the first two rows outlining the field. We would also stagger the application on the second row so as to alternate between row-posts different than done on the first row.
3. Spraying is done by a worker using a backpack 3-gallon hand sprayer. This would allow the Migrate application to be directed to the actual fruit clusters.
3. Baseline strategies concentrated in center rows. Allow the Kite devices to cover the center portion of the field. [See prior posting on what these consist of.]

This would reduce the cost substantially.

Current Migrate costs equal $80/gallon (purchased in 5-gallon quantities). Manufacturer indicates a hand sprayed application as per above, will require 1-quart of Migrate per row that has plants 3-feet wide, with a row 1300 feet long. This 3900 square feet. One quart is required per 4000 square feet. Thus the product cost would be 1 quart ($20) times 4 rows equalling $80 per application. However remember we are only spraying every other row-post, thus reducing the cost by 1/2 to $40. Factor in labor of around 3-hours (@ $12/hr) equalling $36, one application along this strategy would cost around $80.

From this you can figure other scenarios (increasing the number of rows, spraying the whole row, etc) to get some idea for the cost.

As to effectiveness, both blueberry growers and the manufacturer indicate the product works (free of rain) for up to 14-days. Most effectiveness is within the first 10-days.

Again if you were to pencil out the numbers from the above scenarios, if you ran 4 applications (1 every 10 days), the cost would be $320 for the season. If you doubled the treatment spraying, it would be just over $600. Even if you quadrupled the spraying area, it would be $1200. Again when viewed as a quiet alternative to Lp cannons, and what will be saved from Starling fruit predation, this is a small percentage of a cost to the grower.

I'd love to see this added to the Starling Management Plan. My hypothesis is that the grower would have a very effective set of tools that provide relief from loss from unreasonable fruit damage, AND would provide relief to his neighbors. A win-win deal.


REMEMBER: The Villain is the Starling. It is not the grower.