sugar repels birds

alan haighSeptember 5, 2012

I've read about using sugar to repel bird predation repeatedly over the last few years although reviews have been mixed. There's an article in Good Fruit this month that states that several commercial cherry growers are applying 8 pounds of white sugar a week with clear success of a 75% reduction in bird damage. It has also been successful in protecting Honeycrisp apples.

Lack of a sucrose enzyme in the digestive system of birds like robins and starlings leaves these species ill from the sugar and they soon learn to leave fruit alone. It was mentioned that magpies are not bothered.

Olpea, with a peaches ability to hold a lot of spray material I figure you should give this a try. I certainly am going to at cites where I'm spraying anyway.

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Interesting, specially for SE MI where robins and starlings are the two major predators. What is the dilution factor, how much spray per tree, and do I need to boil it to dissolve it? Is silver tape not more effective? I see whole blueberry farms here protected by nothing but tape (of course it is windier here, and the tape is always flickering).

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 7:27PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Thanks Hman,

I don't get Good Fruit Grower, and like Glib I'm curious about some details.

Is it 8 lbs./acre? Do they say if there are any incompatibility issues with other spray compounds? Does the sugar cause any bacterial/fungal growth issues?

With all the fighting I've done with the nets, this almost seems too easy.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 7:36PM
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alan haigh

Because the article was written by a professor he didn't go into much detail (they usually like to wait until research is more complete). He was talking about this as something in the evaluation stage although he was confident that the commercial growers were correct that is works as comparisons to unsprayed trees were made.

He was suggesting that the sugar might also be used in conjunction with innoculum of fungus species that can out compete brown rot and such. The sugar might give the beneficial fungus a head start.

I would dissolve sugar in a warm water concentrate before adding to more water in the tank and probably use about a pound per 25 gallons and spray trees til runoff. You'd have to experiment with compatability in the usual way- spray a few inconsequential branches a few days before spraying whole trees. Or you could try some on a tree done fruiting now. Of course, that wouldn't test your mix's affect on the surface of fruit.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 11:25AM
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Would the sugar also draw ants? While I do have issues w/birds, ants seem to do far more damage overall than birds.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 1:19PM
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alan haigh

Brook, that would require your own research for now. Ants at least can be kept off trees with ant stakes or even tangle trap.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 1:47PM
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very interesting. Any chance the article referred tothe speed of the conditioning? Days/weeks/ect. Assumably they would need to get ill a few times to reinforce the association.
I am pretty sure robins reuse the same locations year after year if they nest there successfully, so you might even build a local "bird resistance" with a few years use depending how long their memories are.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 2:51PM
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alan haigh

Rob, that's a good point which was not explored in the article.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 6:00PM
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Robins also eat insects, and being highly territorial, usually only a few are around. It would be best to have only strictly carnivorous birds, but what if sugar spraying increases the amount of CM and other grubs?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 7:03PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

It sounds like several people are interested in this. Please let's keep this thread alive and post back with problems, successes, and rates of application. I think there is a lot we can learn from each other by way of trial and error on this.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2012 at 8:04PM
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I too have noticed the strong territorial nature of robins during the spring nesting season, but early in spring and again from mid summer on we often see roving flocks of 12+ birds. I will have to quiz a cousin who is a serious birder as to what the behavior cycle is.

In years past we have been blessed by a resident pair of nesting hawks that keep our small birds in check and wary. They were here again this year but we still had the robins in the strawberries.

Nets are such a pain on anything taller than a few feet. An effective spray alternative would be great. Something as clean and easy as sugar would be simply fantastic.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 8:39AM
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So, we want to give birds diabetes now?

And yes, this is a legitamate concern in regards to this "practice"...

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 8:51AM
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alan haigh

Who let these folks out of the asylum. This is becoming annoying, with well meaning crusaders feeling it is there duty to hijack topics on this forum. Please CP, do not participate in any of my topics unless you are speaking from experience.

The professor stated that the birds quickly learn to avoid the sprayed fruit- let's worry about the human diabetes epidemic where people are brainwashed as soon as they begin watching TV to believe bad food will make them feel good. OK, now I'm crusading, but at least it's my thread. Diabetic starlings and robins...please.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 5:12PM
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Noogy(6 sw mi)

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Now that starts my weekend off well!
Thanks for the comic relief!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 6:11PM
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NOOGS! I'm with you! I have had ant problems on my Montmorency cherry and on my Italian plum tree. While there is huge sugar content in some fruits more than others, how is the balance reached per fruit type with the sugar spray? Would this spray be used on raspberries and other berries as well? Many thanks Mrs. G

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 7:11PM
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The hummingbirds love the sugar water I make from table sugar. Northwoodswis4

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 8:20PM
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alan haigh

Northwoods, now he's going to come back and suggest that hummingbirds have the sucrose enzyme or would have if I didn't beat him to it.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2012 at 9:06PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Several years ago I was reading up on something like that using coolaid.

Searching on this subject again I was reading this..
Some claim it works but using the artificial
sweetener, it has Methyl Anthranilate,
it irritates the trigeminal nerve and mucous
membranes through the entry of the eyes, nose and mouth.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2012 at 11:12AM
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The good news...even if results are less than spectacular, the cost is extremely low, so you don't need great results to make it worthwhile.

We did this this year on cherries...seemed to work, hard to give definitive answer cuz the spring skewed the season for us. Talking to the guys who supplied it, they used all the fancy names for the (supposedly) active compounds in sugar, but when it arrived, the sacks said cane sugar.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 8:11AM
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This better not be removed. IT is completely on topic

Harvestman, im not ignorant enough to say something like that. Refined sugar is used in diabetes studies in animals all the time. THey use it to give animals diabetes to test out the drugs.

Hummingbirds eat sugar like its water. I may have varying veiws, but Im not going to make an ignorant comment about you personally, just sayin.... I thought this place was about discussion? So what you are saying that because im giving a veiw thats contradicts you, that its wrong, and that its off topic? SInce when is a conversation one way?

THe reason I even mentioned it is that refined sugar is linked to problems in humans, so why even feed it to birds who are under enough assault from us?.

Sure, the sugar thing is intersting, and it seems non harmful, but have you actually done a study seeing how it affects them? Can you show me where it says its good for them or not harmful at all? One study is not evidence that it works is what I was saying.

You know what works just as well? Playing a recording of hawks or eagles. Or attract birds that mimic the call. So does not planting your fruit trees in massive blocks. Planting trees and plants that theyd prefer works as well (for instance, native pin cherry instead of JUST Van ). .

My point is, why use a method, one person suggested from one study, and use something that actually has been known to cause health problems to humans? DId the study talk about the sugars effect on the stomata on the plant leaves? OR how it will effect the plants ability to fight diseases? Did it talk about if it damages the roots of the plant when it concentrates in the soil? How about the sugar attracting insects, and repelling birds, only to have the birds come back for the insects?

Im not saying dont use it, or its wrong, or it will fail. All im saying is use a bit of common sence when hearing about a "new" way to deal with birds (which in fact, do more good then harm), do more research on it (im well aware that this post is probably you trying to get opinions on it, so dont get mad when one is different then your own :P )

ALso, this isnt coming from someone with no experience either. There are over 100 species of birds here, and the city is surrounded by forest. Have you ever had to chase seaguls out of your yard because they were rummiging in your compost?

MsG - There is a difference between refined table sugar, and the sugar in fruits. Most birds eat fruits in their diet, so they are accustomed to eating FRUCTOSE, which is made by the fruit tree. Sucralose (as mentioned in the top few posts), is made from refining sugar in sugar cane. IT isnt the same.

Now for a good qustion based on this thread: Birds usually eat bread and what not people put out for them. There is usually refined sugars in that. Wouldnt there be some sort of adaptation to the sugars eventually?

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 8:23AM
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alan haigh

CT, you received some of the wrath I was feeling towards incomplete who recently used another thread as his personal soapbox for ideological screeds without any actual experience about what he spoke. You had chimed in there in what seemed to be part of his chorus.

The idea that a primary concern should be that birds might get diabetes does not seem logical to me when I follow it through. The birds would not be affected by the sugar unless they continued to eat the sugar coated fruit which apparently they do not do. Even if they continued to eat the sugar coated fruit the farmer would stop spraying sugar because it would be a waste of time and money. In any case, the harvest season is a small percentage of the year and sugar coated fruit would represent a very small part of the birds total diet. These are common birds and in the extremely unlikely event of a sudden die off in the vicinity of commercial fruit production, practices could be changed before any real harm was done to any species that somehow still managed to be affected by this treatment.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 9:09AM
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I think we can both say we dislike ignorance lol

Yes I had to chime in to that thread. THe dude had NO idea what he was talking about. I agree with the idea he was speaking about, because I actually DO use it. As I said to him, he was just echoing back one book, in a dozen or so books dealing with the blanket term "permaculture". Im not going to get into it, but I find the idea sound, just needs more people willing to experiment. To be honest, from what I have seen in your posts, you may be interested in the topic to some degree. The guy was making an obsucure subject look bad due to misinformation. I tried to clarify, and still help the OP.

And yeah, the diabetes thing was my the same sort of reaction, so I too apologize. I did post a larger thread that I do believe was removed, so that didnt help at all lol.

The main question I think of is "what is attracted to sugar/syrup?" Im also wondering the longer term ramifications. Most plants do tend to need good soil, and I dont see sugar being good for the soil, or the soil life either.

I guess I see easier possibly more effective methods, especially for home use.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 7:37PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA

canadianplant, I'm an RN. My specialty is wellness. First, let me assure you there is very little difference between fructose and sucrose. In fact sucrose is a simpler molecule than the sucrose sugar molecule, and is absorbed via the gut more quickly and can cause faster insulin spikes as well as quicker blood sugar spikes. The amount of sucrose a bird might ingest attempting to peck at a fruit would be very small over a period of time. Not enough to cause any sort of issue with the development of type 2 diabetes. Far less than if that same bird decided to ingest 1/2 the fruit it was pecking at. However, all that being said, if birds lack the enzyme responsible for breaking down the sucrose molecule, they cannot absorb sucrose via the gut at all, and it will simply "go in one end, and out the other", in a rather uncomfortable manner (i.e., stomach ache and diarrhea). So, no chance of even considering causing diabetes in a bird. It would be moot. Which I'm not even sure is biologically possible within the avian population.

Also, canadian, most of us plant our trees within our yards. I have a hugely biodiverse yard over my acre+ lot. My fruit trees and most edibles are intermingled within my yard. My stone fruits are in two main areas of my yard, but still scattered amongst my other plants. Many California natives, as well as Mediterranean plants, plus many other producing plants such as blueberries, figs, grapes, citrus, sapotes, mangos, guavas, cherimoyas, bananas, etc. So, I'm not planting in "blocks". Birds are great at spotting their meals, whether your lovely cherry tree is in a monoculture block, such as a commercial orchard, or among other plant life, as in my yard. Those little red cherries are like gigantic red flags saying, "eat me".

Applying 8 lbs. of sugar diluted in water over an entire orchard would not make any significant difference in the permaculture of that orchard. Sugar is organic, it breaks down very rapidly. It is carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. I think this is a splendid, wonderful, safe, organic option. Harvestman, thanks for mentioning this, I am going to read the article, I think it is an amazing option, I really hope it continues to have success. Wow, what an ingenious, sensible, inexpensive and safe solution. My only concern for me would be ant attraction. We have an awful, awful issue with Argentine ants here in S. California. But, I am going to read up on this, as I have about as bad a time with birds as I do with ants :-) And netting is unattractive, a pain in the bazooka, and only partially successful, as any fruits at the outside of the netting will be damaged. We have such a time with birds and cherry trees here, this is what one of our CRFG members has done in her yard, in order to be able to keep the birds from her cherries. Unfortunately, I have way too many stone fruits to do this. Although, I can tell you, I have SERIOUSLY thought of doing this, and most of my trees are in two long orchard rows. It wouldn't look very pretty, but it could get me fruit.

Now, if I can just keep the bloody snails out of my trees, life would be sweet. And fruity.

Here is a link that might be useful: San Diego Union Tribune: Low Chill Cherries

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 8:38PM
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alan haigh

CP, I probably support permaculture- I'm just not sure what it is. What I really try to engage in is sustainable agriculture and that term means many things to many people. Mostly, I like the idea of stewardship where each generation leaves the earth better than they found it. Unfortunately, it aint happening, but at least I try not be be part of the problem.

One thing I know, productivity has to be an essential part of the equation when you are trying to grow food. All agriculture leaves a big footprint.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2012 at 8:53PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

If sugar causes birds discomfort why do they like bread so much? Bread has quite a lot of sugar and my ducks would stab you in the eye to get it.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2012 at 8:39AM
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