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Blackbirds damage area farmer’s sunflower crop

By Staff | Dec 1, 2017

North Dakota red-winged Blackbirds damage sunflower crops in Pierce County every year. Predator Avian species vary from finches to blackbirds, but the big black bird with a red-winged tip does heavy damage in the Dakota plains right before harvest.

Farmer RJ Paul, of Pierce County spent afternoons trying to discourage the blackbirds from feasting on his flourishing sunflowers. “The crop wasn’t totally ready to harvest,” he said. “Each sunflower head needs to have no yellow showing on the flowers to be harvested,” said Paul, “but that didn’t stop the red-winged blackbirds from trying to eat my crop.”

Sunflowers are ready to harvest soon after the first hard frost. Each flower head must be totally dark with no yellow remaining. Its at this time, the birds, including finches like to eat them, commented the NDSU research center in Langdon.

The blackbirds are allowed to be poisoned in the spring, by rice feed but that method is not fail proof because it is to early in the season. The blackbirds have a migrating season later in the summer.

“Different things might deter the birds, but they consistently come back,” Paul commented.

The sunflowers are at their most peek growing time when yellow and tall. However, to harvest the crop, the sunflower must be dark and dead looking. No color must remain on the flower, and the blackbirds like to eat them when there is just a hint of yellow showing prior to harvest. According to statistics kept by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 20 percent loss is suffered each year by farmers throughout North Dakota. Paul said “The crop was good this year, but the birds, of course took their share of that.” He figured his losses were approximately one third this year.

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