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Bird damage to agriculture

Working Group on Bird Damage to Agriculture
Report on RTD22, 23rd International Ornithological Congress

12 August 2002
by Clive Elliott

Twenty-six people from 14 countries participated in the Round Table Discussion (RTD). Clive Elliott informed the Group that he had been requested about a year previously to take over the chairmanship from the previous chairman Richard Dolbeer, and had obtained the agreement of the IOC Executive Committee Secretary Dominique Homberger. He noted that the Group was a sub-section of the Standing Committee on Applied Ornithology (SCAO) but the SCAO itself appeared to be inactive. His enquiries as to the modus operandi of the Group had suggested that the IOC had, so far, not established any specific or official structure for such Groups. The main purpose of the Group appeared to be to bring together scientists with an interest in the problems that birds pose to agriculture and how they might be variously solved. An additional function would be for the Group to propose symposia, RTDs or other activities for future IOCs.

Participants gave a brief summary of their interest in bird pest problems in agriculture. The range of species mentioned was remarkable and included some unexpected ones; Eared Doves Zenaida auriculata on sorghum and soybeans in Argentina and Brazil, parrots Psittacidae spp. on maize in Argentina, Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo on aquaculture in Germany, Greater Flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber on rice in southern France, various species of goose Anserinae spp. on crops and pasture in China, Germany, Japan, Sweden and the UK, Sandhill Cranes Grus canadensis on crop seedlings and potatoes in the USA, vultures Gypidae spp. possibly transmitting disease to livestock in South Africa, cockatoos Cacatuinae spp. and other parrots on cereals in Australia, Woodpigeons Columba palumbus on cereals and braccid crops, Mute Swans Cygnus bicolor on cereals and Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus reportedly predating domesticated/racing pigeons in the U.K., a range of species on cereals in India and the Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea on small-grain cereals in sub-Saharan Africa.

Several speakers mentioned their interest in repellents. Others described how they had tried, in some cases successfully, to manipulate the agricultural habitat to make it less attractive to birds or to create alternative attractions away from crops. In several areas the success of conservation efforts had created agricultural nuisances out of previously rare or uncommon species such as cranes, flamingoes, and even, possibly, the Peregrine Falcon. It was becoming increasingly important to find solutions to the problems so that the support of farmers for conservation was not undermined. It was noted that bird damage to agriculture was often very patchy, making it difficult to obtain realistic assessments of damage levels and hard to achieve cost-effective control operations. One speaker pointed out that all attempts to reduce large bird pest populations permanently through lethal control had ended in total failure.

Another topic discussed by the Group was the possibility that bird pests could sometimes be converted from pest status to a resource for farmers. Examples included catching Quelea for use as food by local people or even as a luxury export item, the exploitation of Eared Doves for hunting parties from Texas, and the early season hunting of geese in Canada. It was noted that such exploitation had to be handled carefully as it could lead to conflicts of interest among farmers and hunting promoters because benefits might be unequally distributed. Such activities also required careful regulation to avoid non-target birds being caught or killed as a side effect. Where poisons were used to kill pest birds, as in Australia for cockatoos and in Africa for Quelea, the side effects were potentially serious. Further efforts were needed to move away from such techniques and find alternative solutions.

There was sufficient overlap among the activities and lines of research being pursued by participants to suggest that some form of permanent communication, in between IOCs, would be useful. The Group agreed that the e-mail network list-server initiated at the 1998 IOC by a RTD on Quelea management, which had subsequently been established/administered by the Avian Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, should be expanded to cover all bird pest problems in agriculture. It would first be confirmed that existing list-server members had no objection to the change , following which all participants who had provided their email addresses to the 2002 RTD would be automatically enrolled in the e-mail network. It was suggested that each person so enrolled should send in a first message giving a brief summary of their background and interest in bird problems in agriculture. In about two years' time, the Chairman would circulate a message asking for suggestions for symposia or for one or more RTDs at the next OIC that would examine specific issues.

Several participants mentioned the difficulty in finding suitable journals in which to publish papers or reports on bird pest problems in agriculture. This resulted in there being much 'grey' literature on the subject which was often difficult to access. It was agreed that such reports could be placed on the list server or the appropriate reference or address could be given where the paper or report could be found or obtained.

In conclusion, the Chairman thanked participants for their attendance and expressed the hope that there would be some lively and mutually helpful e-mail exchanges on the list server, leading to suitable events being organized for the next IOC in Hamburg, Germany in 2006.

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