Common Myna Starling (Sturnus Vulgaris) Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Aves Order: Passeriformes Suborder: Passeri Family: Sturnidae Rafinesque, 1815
Starlings, Robins, Orioles, and Finches are the four major birds that plague the vineyards. Out of the four, the European Starling is the most common predator found in Europe and North America. Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds in the family Sturnidae. The name “Sturnidae” comes from the Latin word starling, sturnus.
Many Asian species, particularly the larger ones, are called Mynas and many African species are known as glossy starlings because of their green-blue iridescent plumage.
Starlings have strong feet, their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious. Their preferred habitat is fairly open country, and they eat insects and fruit. Many species search for prey such as grubs by “open-bill probing” that is forcefully opening the bill after inserting it into a crevice, creating a larger opening and eating its prey.
There are also several Starling species, such as the Common Starling and Common Myna that live around human habitation, and are effectively omnivores. These starlings will perch on the grapevine and consume the whole berries, pulling the berry through the opening of the net. A large flock of Starlings are capable of claiming a third of a vineyard crop.
In this sample from Pacific Grove, California, a Starling is clearly heard mimicking other birds such as an American Robin and a Killdeer. Starlings have diverse and complex vocalizations, and have been known to embed sounds from their surroundings into their own calls, including car alarms and human speech patterns. The birds can recognize particular individuals by their calls, and are currently the subject of research into the evolution of human language
The Starlings are generally a highly social family. Most species associate in flocks of varying sizes throughout the year. A flock of Starlings is called a murmuration. These flocks may include other species of Starlings and sometimes species from other families. These types of social behavior are particularly evident in their roosting activities. During the non-breeding season, some roosts can increase in numbers well into the thousands of birds.
Biological Control Housing a family of live owls or hawks can be beneficial to managing your bird pressure. Their presence alone can even help manage infestation of other unwanted vineyard pests.
Cultural Control Netting: Unroll ½ in to ¼ in mesh, reusable netting directly over the entire length of your grapevine, lifting the net up in sections and then placing the net on the top of your vines. Spread the netting sides down to the ground or secure the netting under your grapevine, so the birds cannot enter the bottom. Reuse the netting each year by removing it carefully and storing it for the winter. Reusable netting can last from five to seven years.
Scare Techniques: Paint eyes on a large balloons to make “scare-eyes” or purchase these balloons ready-made and hang them on poles above your grapevines to scare the birds away Place plastic models of bird predators, such as a snake, hawk, or an owl around your grapevine. It’s important to remember to switch your scare devices around weekly to different locations to keep them effective otherwise the birds will figure out that these devices are harmless.
Noise Makers: Place noise makers such as acoustic repellants (random noises, reproductive distress calls, whistling, and pyrotechnic pistol cartridge) around your grapevine to scare birds away. Ensure the noise makers work and have them in place before the birds arrive to eat your grapes. Also remember to move your noise makers around every three to five days and have them makes sounds randomly, so the birds do not get used to them. Please note that noise makers such as propane explosions might not ideal for populated areas. If you install this device in your vineyard, it is always a good rule of thumb to set your explosions for sunrise or sunset, as this is the time of day birds usually feed.
Chemical Control Bird repellants are normally not acceptable for use in raisin, wine, or fresh market grapes. Although some are registered, growers should check with packers or marketers to see if they are allowed. In general, no toxicant baits are available for use by grape growers.
Your goal is to have your bird pressure established before the birds make your vineyard their home. These simple techniques are well worth the minimal investment required, as they will save your crops and increase your annual yield.