By Bradford Sherman and Dr. Gary Gao
Bird depredation damage is a tremendous challenge for commercial fruit growers. Growers and researchers are constantly looking for easier and more cost-effective methods, including the use of lasers.
Small Fruit Specialist Dr. Gary Gao explained that many approaches have been tried over the years with varying degree of success, and now his Small Fruits team at The Ohio State University South Centers is investigating the use of these “laser scarecrows,” with some promising results thus far.
“Bird netting seems to be one method that is consistently reliable, but it is very costly and labor intensive to put up and take down,” he said. “A laser deterrent method that we are testing may provide some relief to growers.”
Gao spent much of 2021 researching the various, and plentiful, types of laser bird deterrent devices on the market. Such units can be as inexpensive as around $100, or as much as $25,000.
Following an extensive search and correspondence in conjunction with Dr. Rebecca Brown of the University of Rhode Island, Gao’s team was able to purchase six laser units at cost.
Three were installed at OSU research centers in Kingsville, Piketon, and Wooster, while the other three were placed in three commercial vineyards for observational trials in 2021 and 2022.
One such commercial vineyard was Dragonfly Vineyard and Wine Cellar in Urbana, where the laser scarecrow is connected to a solar panel, timer, and a deep cycle marine battery. Owners Connie and Dr. Kent Eichenauer have been pleased with the results.
“We feel so fortunate in our relationship with Ohio State for our viticulture and winemaking and appreciated the opportunity to experiment with the laser scarecrow in our vineyard,” said Dr. Eichenauer.
“In our first and only season to try it, it worked phenomenally. We had coverage of two acres with the laser and had only about a dozen clusters affected. All that coverage with zero netting – this has been a huge timesaver. We are grateful to OSU and OGIC to be able to participate in this trial.”
“The reason this deterrent method is so effective is because the laser mimics a predator’s eye and frightens the birds,” explained Research Assistant Ryan Slaughter. “The randomness of the oscillation means birds are unable to notice a pattern, which otherwise would render it useless.”
Dr. Brown has also gotten some positive results on managing bird damage in sweet corn with a laser bird deterrent device developed by her project team. Gao indicated that she will likely apply for a USDA grant to continue her research on fruit crops.
“Hopefully, our field observations will help her grant application. More importantly, we hope the laser bird deterrent device will give our growers a more affordable and less labor consuming way to reduce bird damage,” said Gao.
The laser scarecrow installed at South Centers in Piketon also produced some encouraging results, according to Gao, even though bird pressure was low at the center’s demonstration vineyards in September and October 2021.
“After we saw a huge flock of doves in blueberry and fig plots, Ryan relocated our laser scarecrow there. Those doves just took off and moved away shortly after the laser scarecrow deployment there,” recalled Gao.
Even though this is not replicated and randomized study, Dr. Gao is quite encouraged by the initial observation in 2021. He says he will continue this observational trial in 2022 and hopes to have more results to share.
Ohio Grape Industries Committee (OGIC) provided funding for the purchase of the laser scarecrows.