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Birds Don’t Always Like What They See

Wildlife cause billions of dollars of damage to agriculture and personal property each year. Scientists at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) have long-standing partnerships with private companies and industry groups to investigate bird- and rodent-repellent compounds, formulations, and application strategies for reducing wildlife damage. One such partnership with Arkion Life Sciences has resulted in an intellectual property portfolio that includes two issued patents and two patent-pending applications regarding an animal’s perception of ultraviolet (UV) light. These discoveries have allowed Arkion to develop repellent products based on a naturally occurring, plant-based compound called anthraquinone (AQ) for mitigating wildlife damage to agriculture and personal property. These products are cost-effective, practical, environmentally safe and socially responsible, and are currently marketed and sold nationally and internationally.

AQ was first patented in 1944 as a repellent to reduce bird damage to agricultural crops. At that time, the assumed mode of action was post-ingestive stress (e.g., experiencing a negative reaction to consumption). NWRC-Arkion research led by NWRC research wildlife biologist Dr. Scott Werner has shown that AQ can also cause avoidance behaviors in birds and mammals through visual cues related to the compound’s absorption of the UV spectrum. As a result, additional repellent products and application strategies have been designed that ‘trick’ birds and mammals into overlooking food items or deter them from sitting or perching on items. Werner’s research has also shown that if birds come into contact with AQ first, other less expensive compounds with similar UV spectral characteristics can be substituted for AQ in subsequent applications or subsequent applications of AQ can be made at lower application rates.

The results of the NWRC-Arkion partnership not only impacts wildlife conservation and crop and disease protection in the U.S., but also food production in less developed countries. For example, an AQ-based product used as a seed treatment on upper Midwest corn crops has significantly reduced sandhill crane damage to newly planted corn seed, thus reducing the need to lethally remove cranes. Rice seed treatments significantly reduce blackbird and grackle damage to newly planted rice, and foliar applications to emergent soybeans reduce damage caused by grazing geese. Furthermore, applications made to perch sites on the outside of poultry facilities cause wild birds to avoid those areas, thereby reducing the threat of wild birds transmitting diseases to domestic poultry flocks. Most recently, Arkion announced the registration of a product in the Republic of Ghana for an AQ-based repellent for rice seed. Initial repellent field trials on Ghanaian rice have doubled its yield, representing changes from subsistence to cash crop farming and allowing children to go to school rather than scaring birds away from rice fields.

Contact: Dr. Scott Werner, (970) 266-6136, scott.j.werner@aphis.usda.gov

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Mid-Continent