Sandhill crane repellent (Avitec) available in 2007

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

The crane repellent Avitec is available again this summer for corn in Michigan (as well as Wisconsin and Minnesota) through the Section 18 process. The Section 18 is specifically to reduce crane damage in newly planted corn seed.

The crane problem

Crane populations and crop damage have risen over the last several decades. Harassment methods are time consuming and often do not work, and simply drive birds to neighboring fields. Recognizing the problem, the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin studied how to prevent damage. They found that seed treatments containing lindane reduced feeding on seedlings. However, lindane is an old, persistent organochlorine insecticide that is mostly eliminated from the seed treatment market. The ICF continued to look for an alternative, hitting upon 9,10 anthraquinone, a natural plant-produced compound with low toxicity, in tests with captive birds. Anthraquinone is currently used as a goose repellent for parks, golf courses, schools, and lawns.

For agricultural use, anthraquinone is manufactured and sold by Arkion Life Sciences as Avitec. It can be applied as a liquid seed treatment by a commercial seed-treater, or by the do-it-your-selfer in the dry form as a planter box treatment. It is NOT a restricted use pesticide, and you don’t need a DNR permit to apply it. However, you must have a copy of the Section 18 label at the time of application. Avitec repels cranes without harming them. The birds detect the treated seed and avoid feeding on the corn. However, cranes may still be present in treated fields, feeding on other seeds, worms or insects.

Important notes on Avitec use and price

In 2006, most of the Avitec used was in the powder form as a planter box treatment. The state with the highest number of acres treated last year was Wisconsin (est. 40,000 acres). Dr. Eileen Cullen, the field crops entomologist at the University of Wisconsin, reports “relatively few complaint calls, as well as positive feedback from growers. The powder worked well…. There were reports of inconsistency in some cases in terms of the amount of powder retained on the seed. The dose per seed varied with some planter types, and in cases where growers added graphite or talc to the hopper box or filled the box too full, did not thoroughly mix, etc. In all reported cases, Arkion worked with the growers and solved the issues for the most part.”

Note that the product label for the dry formulation of Avitec indicates that the powder must be mixed thoroughly into the planter box. Also, graphite and talc should NOT be added when using the dry Avitec formulation. If you have time to get seed treated with the liquid product, that should solve some of these problems and improve consistency. However, used properly, the dry formulation appears to work well.

The target cost for Avitec is about $5 per acre. That price may vary a bit depending on the local distributor. If you have trouble finding Avitec in your area, or are quoted a price considerably above $5, Arkion urges you to call them directly or visit their web site (contact information at the end of this article). They can help you find a dealer and a reasonable price.

Crane biology related to crop damage

Cranes are amazing birds. They are considered the oldest living bird species, as close as we can get to dinosaurs. But they can also be destructive to crops. Sandhill cranes return to Michigan each spring to mate and lay eggs in wetland areas. Mating pairs and chicks (1 to 2) feed in wetlands and move into upland areas such as pastures and fields. Pairs are territorial; with the small field sizes in Michigan, there is usually only one pair plus offspring per field. Juvenile (year-old) cranes, however, have a different behavior. When they return to Michigan, they gather in large flocks that move from field to field. Jim Harding, a wildlife specialist with the MSU Museum, calls juvenile cranes “troublemakers” and he says “all there is for them to do is eat.” It is these large groups of hungry juveniles that cause the most crop damage. A nesting pair will drive groups of juveniles away, so it is technically an advantage to have a nesting pair in your field.

Sandhill cranes have a varied diet, eating plant tubers, seeds, insects, worms, mice, frogs, and snakes. Some of their feeding – on cutworms, grubs, and other soil pests – is beneficial to crop production. However, a crane can probe down into the ground with its long beak and pluck out germinating seed and seedlings as it walks down a row. A group of cranes can destroy acres of corn in a short period. The majority of crop damage from cranes is reported from southwestern Michigan (Hillsdale and Jackson Counties, west), an area with many small fields interspersed with lakes and wetlands.

Not many alternatives

Some growers have proposed feeding or baiting cranes by putting seed corn along field edges to lure them away from production fields. Every bird expert I talked to said NO to this idea. Cranes prefer the open middle of fields where they can see potential predators, so they probably wouldn’t stay on bait corn on a field edge. Also, in addition to grain, they eat high-protein food like insects, and thus naturally may wander from the baited area. Finally, baiting might make things worse by drawing additional birds to a field.

Harassment and removal (a nice way to say shooting) of birds is an option, but it is time consuming. A permit is required to kill cranes. To get information on obtaining a permit, call the USDA-APHIS Michigan Wildlife Service office in Okemos, Michigan, at (517) 336-1928. Note that a permit is less likely to be issued if you have not tried the Avitec repellent.

Important contact numbers

Avitec pricing, availability
Arkion Life Sciences LLC
Wilmington DE, 1-800-468-6324

Permits for crane removal
USDA-APHIS Michigan Wildlife Services
2803 Jolly Road, Suite 100, Okemos,
MI 48864 517-336-1928

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