Keith Fontenot | 1/29/2011 3:45:58 AM
As rice farmers prepare to make decisions about how much rice they will plant this year, they are subject to uncertainty in rice prices; great fluctuation in prices for fuel, fertilizer, and equipment; and uncertainty about the implementation of government programs. They are also watching hordes of blackbirds waiting for them to plant so they can eat the seed. Blackbird losses cause thin or failed stands, requiring the farmer to spend many dollars to replant the fields, dollars that farmers just don’t have this year.
Another problem is that brown headed cowbirds, which make up a large percentage of the blackbird population, are responsible for destroying tremendous numbers of songbirds by laying their eggs in the songbird nest. According to “The Birds of North America” (Number 47, 1993), with adequate nutrition, female cowbirds lay almost daily during the breeding season and may lay 40 eggs each spring, all in the nests of other species. Not only will the cowbird lay eggs in the songbird nest, but she will usually remove the songbird egg in the process. Even if she doesn’t, the cowbird egg has a shorter incubation period, so it will hatch first. Young songbirds cannot compete with the bigger cowbird chick which the mother songbird feeds to maturity.
Ornithologists and farmers hate cowbirds but the farmer usually considers them all as blackbirds that eat his rice.
Because of the severe local damage caused by blackbirds to sprouting rice in southwest Louisiana, officials with U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the LSU AgCenter will be cooperating with local rice growers in a baiting program to control these bird populations.
The baiting program will begin in mid-February and run to about the end of March, depending on the number of birds present. A product called DRC 1339 will be used again this year to help control blackbirds.
Bait will be applied under the supervision of USDA/Wildlife Service’s personnel trained in pest bird management procedures. Although dead blackbirds do not present a significant hazard to humans or pets, officials recommend that they be buried and that no blackbirds be utilized for human consumption.
The program was originated through the efforts of the statewide rice growers associations. Farm Bureau was also very instrumental in making the program possible.
Those wanting more details can call the USDA/Wildlife Services Office at 225-389-0229 in Port Allen, La.