Corn clipping curiosities may be geese

It’s not just insects that damage corn stands.

We are getting a number of reports of clipped corn seedlings in fields, yet no cutworm can be found. The likely culprit in several of these cases is Canada Geese. Geese forage on young grass shoots, including winter wheat in early spring and emerging corn seedlings later in the spring, often bypassing many broadleaf plants and weeds. Many times they will pull up the young seedlings to get the seed itself. This feeding injury may be especially common in open fields near areas that provide open water and other suitable nesting and roosting habitat.

Close up of missing seed Several plants that are missing seeds
Left, close-up of a missing seed. Right, several plants in a row that are missing their seeds.

Cutworm clipping typically occurs uniformly at or just below the soil line and proceeds down the row. The cutworm is usually found just below the soil surface or under debris during the day near the next plant to be cut. Clipping from geese will be more variable in height, anywhere from down to the seed to the tip of the leaf, and may be several plants in the row and can often be several plants in the adjacent row depending upon the direction the bird is walking. Tracks may or may not be evident. Clipped off plant parts are usually more scattered around after goose feeding than after cutworm injury.

High clipped corn by geese
High clipped corn by geese.

The clipped leaves may not be a problem if the growing point is undisturbed. In some cases the plant is clipped off higher than the growing point and no appreciable damage to the stand will occur. When the seed is pulled up, however, the plant is dead.

Before you get out your shotgun and start looking for a recipe for deep-fried wild goose, note that they are a regulated game species. Contact the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) for rules on hunting. You can also find information on scare devices, repellents and “Goose Round Ups” by visiting their site or contact the local MDNR Wildlife Management Unit office nearest you.

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