CROPSTIPS

Ten strategies for protecting rice from birds

Sparrows in a rice field. (Innotata/Wikimedia Commons)

By James Tababa

Birds are a vital part of our ecosystem, contributing to pollination and pest control. However, in certain situations, they can become a significant threat to agricultural crops, including rice fields. The Philippines, with its rich biodiversity, faces challenges in managing rice-eating bird species that can cause damage to crops.

Out of the more than 70 species of birds found in rice fields, only a few are known to feed on rice. Around 14 species in Southeast Asia, including five in the Philippines, have been identified as rice-eating birds. Notable examples include the Eurasian tree sparrow (maya), chestnut munia (mayang pula), scaly-breasted munia (mayang paking), and white-bellied munia (mayang bato).

The birds are considered threats during the ripening phase of rice crops because they may squeeze the grains while they are in the milky phase, the growth phase where the rice grains are semi-liquid in consistency which occurs between flowering and grain-filling stages, or consume the entire mature grain. 

Birds become particularly problematic from the ripening phase of the rice plant until harvest. During this time, some species feed off panicles by landing on them, perching on nearby objects, or scavenging for dropped grains on the ground after harvest. 

Several bird control methods are available to manage the challenge of rice-eating birds. Each method has its benefits and potential drawbacks. Some options include:

Manually tending the rice fields

Field personnel will engage in constant movement within the rice fields, mimicking the behavior of potential predators In addition to movement, the individual tending the rice field utilizes gestures that replicate the actions of predators. These gestures include raising their arms to appear larger, clapping hands, and even imitating bird calls that signal danger to other birds.

Birds have evolved to recognize and respond to signs of danger. The presence of humans triggers their instinctual response, causing them to hesitate or flee, minimizing their time in the fields.

Protective nets

Some farmers put nets over their rice fields. Nets are strategically placed over rice fields to create a physical barrier that prevents birds from accessing the crops. These nets are designed to be durable and lightweight, allowing sunlight and rain to reach the plants while keeping birds at bay. This can be effective, but it can be expensive. Also, beneficial birds might get caught in the nets.

Reflective strips

Reflective tape, often made of metallic materials, is strategically hung around rice fields. As sunlight dances off the tape’s surface, it creates flashes of light that startle and confuse birds, discouraging them from landing and feeding.

Old cassette tapes can be hung from stakes and as they flutter in the breeze, they also emit soft rustling sounds that mimic the sound of potential predators.

Noise maker

Noise makers, as the name suggests, emit a variety of sounds that disturb and discourage birds from landing and feeding in rice fields. The unexpected and unfamiliar noises interrupt birds.

Natural repellant

Chili extract-based repellents are effective with continuous application every two weeks, requiring re-application after rain. Chili repellents are an environmentally friendly alternative to chemical solutions, as they rely on a natural compound that poses no harm to the ecosystem.

Decoy predator

Placing decoy predators in key locations within rice fields creates a visual narrative of potential danger, urging birds to seek safer feeding grounds. Filipino farmers repurpose flattened frogs and position them on stakes to mimic the appearance of predators or snakes. Birds, familiar with these patterns from nature, become wary of the potential danger they represent.

Flags

Flags, strategically placed throughout rice fields, use movement to deter birds. The fluttering of colorful fabric disrupts the birds, encouraging them to seek quieter locations.

Scarecrows

Scarecrows stand as silent sentinels, their human-like shapes creating the illusion of human presence. Birds, perceiving potential danger, avoid the areas where scarecrows are stationed.

Bird kites

Bird kites, crafted to resemble birds of prey or other avian species, soar in the sky. Their lifelike movements and appearances discourage birds from approaching the fields.

Letting nature help

Some farmers let bigger birds eat the smaller pest birds. This can help keep the pest bird population down and balance things out in the rice fields. It’s a natural way to deal with the problem.

Balancing the preservation of agricultural crops and the conservation of bird species in the Philippines requires a thoughtful approach. Employing a combination of these bird control methods, tailored to specific circumstances, can help mitigate the impact of rice-eating birds on crop yield.

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