Crop Protection: How .22 Shot Shells and a Scarecrow Saved My Corn Crop

The author describes how .22 shot shells rained death upon the grackles raiding his newly planted corn, and how a scarecrow kept the survivors away until the plants matured.

| July/August 1973

So the crows and other feathered robbers made off with half your corn crop this spring before the plants had hardly even poked their little green heads out of the ground. Makes you wanna run out with grandpa's blunderbuss and have at the rascals, doesn't it? Or at the very least set up a scarecrow . . . except for the rumors you've heard about modern, sophisticated birds and their refusal to be frightened by such traditional devices. 

Well, it's too late to be of much help this year, but next time around you might want to combine both those impulses the way Harold Blaisdell does . . . by building yourself a scarecrow with some real authority. 

Crows are usually thought of as the traditional enemies of corn-growing farmers, but I recently discovered that grackles—the so-called "boat-tail" variety—are even worse villains in this respect. There are more of them, for one thing . . . and they're even bolder, for another.

Grackles follow the same devastating routine as that employed by crows. As soon as the tiny corn plants push above ground, the thieves waddle up one row and down the next, pulling the seedlings in meticulous succession and gobbling the kernels from which they sprouted. The first shoot-eating scoundrel quickly attracts others, and the all out gathering of the clan which swiftly follows can lay waste an entire planting in a very short time.

To me, the habits of crop-stealing birds are more than just natural history . . . they're a serious economic problem. You see, my wife and I live on a five-acre tract in a home which we built largely by our own efforts. Much of our land is unfit for crops and on this acreage we set out 3,000 red pine and spruce seedlings, some of which are now 20 feet tall. I'm bringing the remainder of the property under cultivation as rapidly as possible, raising all the vegetables and berries needed for family use and selling the steadily increasing surplus at retail.

In line with my market gardening program, I plowed an additional quarter-acre this spring . . . land which had lain neglected for at least two decades. I cleared the plot as thoroughly as possible, but the turf remained so densely matted with the roots of trees, bushes, weeds, and grass that only a very rough job of plowing and harrowing could be done. Nevertheless, I planted the entire patch in seven kinds of sweet corn and gambled that I'd be able to keep down the unwanted growth with my rototiller.

Robert LaCoe
6/7/2012 7:17:42 PM

From what I have read the 30= million of those dirty thieves came from 26 birds a bird lover had in NY or Long Island. When he died they were just turned loose. I have heard that Texas A&M has developed a poison that will kill them but no other birds. I do not know if this is true, but I hope it is.

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