Keep ditches mowed to keep birds moving

Blackbird flocks will reach maximum size near mid-September

A swarm of blackbirds takes flight.

If you want to save your sunflowers, you need to make sure the blackbirds don’t make them dinner.

Lower acres this year have served to concentrate the blackbird flocks into smaller areas where they can do more damage, according to Daryl Rex, an agronomist with the National Sunflower Association of Canada.

“I think it is definitely because of less acres, but it’s also the locations of fields,” Rex said. “If there are some reeds or bulrushes close to the fields they like to settle down in there and then feed on the sunflowers.”

He reminded producers that getting into ditches and removing vegetation is the best way to deter blackbirds. No other effective deterrents are available.

“There really isn’t anything else,” he said. “Bangers have been used previously, but they are only good for a small area.”

Blackbirds begin feeding on sunflowers shortly after they drop their petals and can form large flocks, which reach maximum size near mid-September. Because the birds prefer early-maturing fields, planting sunflower fields in tandem with neighbouring producers can help stop the pests from focusing all their attention on one field. Overall damage from the winged sunflower predators is on par with previous years, Rex said.

While 100,000 acres of sunflowers were planted in Manitoba last year, only about half as many acres were planted this year, bumping up the bird-to-sunflower field ratio. According to Statistics Canada, acres peaked in Manitoba at 190,000 in 2007 and dipped down to 35,000 in 2011.

Rex added that most blackbird damage has been reported in the southwest part of the province, but other areas have seen some issues with sclerotinia.

“There is some stalk and head rot damage showing up in central Manitoba, but out in the eastern part of the province things are looking fairly well,” said Rex. “I’d say it’s mostly weather related, there is always a low level out there.”

He added that overall the crop is looking fairly normal.

Manitoba sunflowers are moving steadily towards harvest, but those in the know say it’s still too early to say what yields might look like.

“Right now we are mostly at the R8 stage… a few fields just being desiccated now and those fields that are being desiccated now should come off in the next couple of weeks,” said Rex. Backs of sunflower heads are yellow and bracts are starting to brown, with some basal stalk rot evident, according to Manitoba Agriculture.

About the author


Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.



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