U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Klug, P.E. 2017. The future of blackbird management research. In: G.M. Linz, M.L. Avery, and R.A. Dolbeer, editors. Ecology and management of blackbirds (Icteridae) in North America. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. Pgs. 217-234.


U.S. government work


Human society values birds for their intrinsic and aesthetic value as well as the ecosystem services they provide as pollinators, consumers of pests, and distributors of nutrients and seeds (Wenny et al. 2011). At the same time, conflict between birds and humans is an age-old phenomenon that has persisted as society has transformed and the scale of agriculture has expanded (Conover 2002). Managing conflict between birds and agriculture is challenging for many reasons. Foremost, the need to consider both human welfare and conservation of protected bird species is paramount, with nonlethal management methods preferred to lethal measures from societal, economical, and ecological standpoints (Miller 2007; Linz et al. 2015). Second, methods must be effective, practical, and economical for agricultural implementation. Finally, management methods must overcome characteristics that make birds difficult to manage including uncertainty in population estimates, fecundity, mobility, and adaptive behaviors. All challenges are compounded when attempting to establish management methods that fit within modern agricultural practices, while simultaneously supporting conservation efforts to protect wildlife. Labor-saving devices and methodologies resulting from agricultural advances in mechanical, chemical, genetic, and information technologies have facilitated a shift to larger crop fields, a broader range of suitable habitat for a variety of crops, and consolidated farms in North America (MacDonald et al. 20(3). This shift to large. less labor-intensive farms has supported the ability to feed an ever-increasing human population but has complicated the relationship between humans and wildlife. Modern agriculture directly impacts wildlife by altering natural habitat. resulting in the increase of species able to thrive in agricultural landscapes and the decline of species unable to adapt. Thus. agriculture often provides increased carrying capacity for species responsible for agricultural damage (Van Vuren and Smallwood 1996). However, changes in harvest efficiency have resulted in less crop waste and reduced availability of high-energy foods available to birds postharvest, potentially placing common farmland birds at risk of decline (Krapu et al. 2004; Galle et al. 2009). Nevertheless, vertebrate species able to adapt to the agricultural landscape often reach pest levels, resulting in producers seeking tools to reduce damage, tools that have not necessarily advanced in concert with modern agriculture. Red-winged blackbirds (150 million; Agelaius phoeniceus), brown-headed cowbirds (120 million; Molothrus ater), common grackles (69 million; Quiscalus quiscula), and yellowheaded blackbirds (15 million; Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) are among the most numerous birds in North America (Rosenberg et al. 2016). This book has identified conflicts between blackbirds and agricultural commodity groups including livestock, rice, corn, sunflower, and numerous specialty crops (Dolbeer 1990; Cummings et al. 2005; Anderson et al. 2013; Klosterman et al. 2013; Figure 13.1). Continued progress in development of blackbird management methods and acquisition of baseline knowledge as to its impacts on blackbird populations are needed at local, regional, and national scales. In this chapter, I evaluate gaps in knowledge and potential research directions. I address the following topics: (I) blackbird biology at the species, population, and community levels; (2) the influence of changing landscapes on blackbirds and agricultural damage in terms of agricultural practices, habitat, and climate change; (3) the limitations of lethal and nonlethal management tools (i.e., repellents, frightening devices, and evading strategies) and how research can optimize techniques or facilitate new tool discovery; and (4) economic evaluation of management and human dimensions.