Reducing Blackbird Damage

Field Assistance

If you are having blackbird problems, the Blackbird Control Map document below provides a map with phone numbers for ND producers. They will respond to you during the damage season by providing loaner cannons and pyrotechnics. These Specialists can provide further assistance with shotgun shooting, in an attempt to break up large roosts.
Blackbird Control Map
2023 Blackbird Project Map file size: 375 kb
A map of contact names and numbers for blackbird resources

Blackbird Control Tips for Producers
WS Blackbird Control Tips for Producers file size: 557 kb

Blackbird damage to ripening sunflower can be a serious problem with extensive yield losses.
Sunflower Head damaged by Black BirdsResearch indicates that up to half or more of the blackbird damage to ripening sunflower occurs in the first two weeks after petal drop. These are blackbirds that have been reared locally and are in the process of developing their long range flying feathers. These birds are difficult to move for that reason.  The most common blackbird species impacting sunflower are the 'red winged' blackbirds.

Photo credit for sunflower head: USDA APHIS Wildlife Services (
Cattail Management
Untreated Wetlands
Untreated Wetlands
Eliminating cattails is the single best weapon in reducing damage. The most effective control is spraying the cattails with a Glyphosate product labeled for aquatic use. Spraying the cattails will keep the wetland free of cattails for 4 or more years. Cattails in dry sloughs should be eliminated with Glyposate prior to tillage. This will provide longer control.

The damage season is the best time to identify which cattail sloughs birds are using to congregate. Those need to be sprayed. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will most often agree to have their wetlands sprayed as well.

Click here to learn more about cattail management in the Northern Great Plains.

All of the items listed below can lower damage especially if used in combination. The migrating flocks come later in September or near the first frost. These flocks are easier to move with hazing techniques.
USDA does loan out cannons to scare blackbirds out of fields. Cannons are effective only if moved periodically and combined with occasional shooting to kill or wound blackbirds. Automatic timers on the cannons can make them much effective.  Otherwise the birds become accustomed to the noise.
Blackbirds do not like to be harassed in the evening/night as they are settling into a wetland or tree grove.  Several individuals shooting at them as the blackbirds are coming into roost and then shooting into the roost may prompt the birds to leave after a night or two of harassment.  Some local gun clubs have cooperated with their grower friends in harassment activities in the sunflower field as well as the roost.  This provides good target practice and the growers often reciprocate with hunting privileges.

Unmanned Aerial Systems
Devices, such as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), have the potential to be used as a non-lethal control of blackbirds on sunflowers. UAS have been used as a tool to scare birds from airports and in vineyards and could be used as a management tool to deter birds from foraging in sunflowers. NSA has funded research to assess and compare the effectiveness of two UAS platforms (i.e., the fixed-wing Vireo from FourthWing and the InspireAg quadcopter from DMZ) for scaring blackbirds from sunflowers. Fixed-wing and quadcopter platforms have different flight capabilities allowing for the comparison of different hazing techniques. The fixed-wing UAS is capable of covering greater distances and handling greater wind speeds. Alternatively, the quadcopter UAS is capable of greater manueverability and flight speeds. The differences in the performance of the two UAS platforms will allow for the testing of different strafing approaches. The knowledge from this experiment will help to develop non-lethal methods of pest-bird population control and reduce crop damage.

Glyphosate is labeled on sunflower as a late season weed control and works as a desiccant as well. Desiccation can shorten the time that fields are vulnerable to birds. Other products such as Sharpen, Valor SX Herbicide, Paraquat and Drexel Defol are labeled as well.  Learn more about late season weed control by reading Article Archives ( in the April 2007 issue of The Sunflower.
Treated wetlands

There are a number of bird repellants on the market.  Caged efficacy trials conducted by USDA shows limited repellency.

DRC 1339 is an avicide that is registered but can only be applied by USDA APHIS Wildlife Serivices personnel for use to eliminate blackbirds 'doing or about to do damage'. The challenge has been to get the blackbirds into a feeding site when there are large fields of sunflower or corn nearby.  This product is used widely in other areas of the country when the birds have few feeding options.  Work will continue in the sunflower region.  There is a lot of interest in additional repellants.  New products are being tested in caged trials and in field trials.  Products with good efficacy will be brought to market as soon as possible. 

National Scope
Blackbirds are the single largest bird population in North America.  A cautious damage estimate of $200 million dollars annually is done to a multitude of crops and livestock.  There are serious concerns about human and animal health in areas where large flocks overwinter, especially in urban areas.  There are major concerns about aircraft/airport safety.  Efforts are in place to create a national plan to deal with this pest. 

NSA Funded Research
There are a number of research papers available for review on the NSA web site that describes studies conducted on bird predation. Go to the searchable Research Forum page and select the "Bird Predation" category for more information.


Ecology and Management of Blackbirds in North America
Ecology and Management of Blackbirds (Icteridae) in North America is a new book that summarizes and synthesizes this vast body of information on the biology and life histories of blackbirds and their conflicts with humans into a single volume for researchers, wildlife managers, agriculturists, disease biologists, ornithologists, policy makers, and the public. The book reviews the life histories of red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, common grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds. It provides in-depth coverage of the functional roles of blackbirds in natural and agricultural ecosystems. In doing so, this authoritative reference promotes the development of improved science-based, integrated management strategies to address conflicts when resolutions are needed.

Order your discounted copy today. Complete and return the form to
Order Form
Ecology and Management of Blackbirds_Order Form file size: 25 kb
Ecology and Management of Blackbirds_Order Form

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