The Viticulture Group of CSIC shares their successful strategies
Success Story: Dr. Mª del Carmen Martínez Rodríguez -Scientific Researcher, Director of the Viticulture Group at the Biological Mission of Galicia in the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)- shares her experience with different methods of protecting grapes from bird attacks.
In the summer of 2017, Dr. Martínez, Director of the Viticulture Group at the Biological Mission of Galicia in CSIC, was desperate. Flocks of starlings, blackbirds, pigeons, magpies… and other birds were attacking the experimental plots in the vineyards where they worked.
They were doing it with such intensity that they practically left them without grape samples to continue their research projects in viticulture.
After trying many ineffective methods to scare birds away from vineyards, Dr. Martínez decided to try something new.
After conducting thorough research and reading various scientific articles, she discovered bird deterrent systems that use sound, and later on, the Bird Gard repellers. She was not familiar with them and had no prior reference, but based on her studies, she believed they could work to repel birds from the vineyards, so she decided to give them a try.
In that same summer of 2017, Dr. Martínez contacted BirdGard Iberia. The viticulture group led by Dr. Martínez acquired a bird deterrent, the BirdGard Super Pro model, to scare birds away from several experimental vineyard plots that the group has in Galicia and Asturias. As grape ripening occurs in different weeks, depending on the wine region and variety, the Bird Gard bird repeller is moved from one experimental plot to another, according to the needs.
In the summer of 2020, having successfully used the BirdGard Super Pro bird repeller for four seasons and being satisfied with the results obtained, the viticulture group acquired a new BirdGard Super Pro bird deterrent.
BirdGard Iberia had the privilege of talking to Dr. Martínez about her research work in viticulture and her experience with different methods of protecting grapes from bird attacks. Here is a summary of the conversation we had.
During our conversation with Dr. Martínez, it is clear that she is not only a rigorous professional but also knows how to adapt the scientific level of the conversation so that non-experts in viticulture can understand the message. She is also a passionate scientist who is willing to extend the interview time to answer all of our questions.
What work does the Viticulture Group at the Biological Mission of Galicia (CSIC) perform?
Dr. Martínez explains: “The Viticulture Group works on several lines of research:
- We recover and preserve different European grape varieties. In our collection, we have over 100 different grape varieties, many of them unknown.
- We also collaborate with other foreign research groups, sharing grape samples for studying their resistance, susceptibility to diseases, etc.
- In parallel, we conduct research projects and doctoral theses. For example, one ongoing thesis studies the behavior of the same grape variety under different conditions in a mountainous wine-growing area.
- We conduct trials and projects with wineries, collaborating to study the cultivation of ancient grape varieties that were once lost but have been recovered by our group.
- Additionally, we actively contribute data and scientific studies to enhance the quality and differentiation of Designations of Origin (DO), and we even support the creation of new ones, such as the achievement of the DO for wines from Asturias (D.O. Cangas) or for certain areas of Galicia (IGP Ribeiras do Morrazo).
In conclusion, our group is involved in a lot of open work, conducting extensive fieldwork. We make frequent visits to vineyards in different wine regions and collaborate with wineries. We work in various experimental plots, not only in Galicia but also in different parts of Spain, such as Asturias, Ribera del Duero, Tierras de León, Catalonia, etc.
Lastly, I would like to mention that for the past 9 years, our group has also been researching native Galician olive trees. We work in experimental plots and with small-scale olive growers. This is an area of great future potential and commercial value for Galicia, based on the data we are obtaining.
In summary, our group primarily focuses on conducting research projects related to grape cultivation, and more recently, olive cultivation. In the past 4 years, we have also started studying ancient Cultivated Roses for use in perfumery or pharmacology.”
What problems do birds cause in vineyards?
Dr. Martínez confirms that birds cause significant damage in vineyards:
“Winemakers are desperate. And we are too. The bird attacks on vineyards this year have been so intense that after months of studying and caring for the vines, we are left without grape samples for the studies we were conducting. They spoil the work of years for us by leaving us without grapes on the vines we were monitoring. And for the wineries, it means years without a harvest or significantly reduced yields.”
“Currently, the problem with birds in vineyards is more pressing than in the past. This is because many fields of rye, wheat, and other cereals have disappeared, and in some areas, the vineyard area has been significantly reduced. This means there are far fewer feeding grounds for birds, and the few existing vineyards are devoured by them.
This year, specifically, we don’t know if due to the impact of the lockdown, the flocks are even larger, and the bird problem in vineyards is enormous.
In the past, what methods did you try to prevent birds from eating the grapes? How effective were they?
Dr. Martínez explains:
“We were so desperate that in the past, we tried all kinds of methods to prevent birds from eating the grapes in our trials. Among other things, we tried:
- Scare cannons that produce a loud noise. We know that many winemakers use them in their vineyards, but they don’t work very well because the birds quickly get used to them. We’ve even seen a line of birds sitting on top of the cannon…
- Shiny wind-moving tapes, but it’s a very temporary solution because the birds quickly get used to them.
- Fabric infused with a bird-repellent odor. The problem in this case is that the grapes, and subsequently the wine, also absorb the odor.
- Falconry services. In our center, the Working Group dedicated to the selection and improvement of Maize has used them. In spring, they sow different varieties of maize. But crows, magpies, starlings, and all kinds of birds eat the seeds; so after sowing, they don’t even manage to germinate. This group rents falconry services. They mentioned that it worked at first, but now it’s starting to be ineffective in some cases. Additionally, these services are very expensive.”
Why did the Viticulture Group of the CSIC choose to use Bird Gard repellers to scare birds away from vineyards?
Dr. Martínez recalls:
“In the summer of 2017, we were desperate. Despite all the measures we took to fight against birds, we couldn’t collect grape samples for our studies. The birds were eating everything.
So, at that time, I started searching for other alternative methods to protect the vineyard from birds. It was a thorough search that involved reading various scientific articles.
Eventually, I found Bird Gard bird repellers. I had no prior references from other wineries using them, but based on what I had read, I thought they could be an effective solution. So, I decided to give them a try.”
And since you have been using Bird Gard bird repellers, what have the results been like?
Dr. Martínez is firm in her response:
“They work well. So far, among all the methods we have tried and seen to scare birds away from the vineyard, BirdGard bird deterrents are the most effective.
Furthermore, the results are immediate. The same day the BirdGard bird repeller is installed, the birds stop eating the grapes because they don’t approach anymore.”
For example, in Asturias, in the Cangas del Narcea area, we have the BirdGard Super Pro bird deterrent installed in a vineyard plot of about 2 hectares, where we are collecting data for a thesis. About 10-15 kilometers away from this plot, we have other similar plots, also included in the thesis, where we cultivate the same grape varieties. Well, it turns out that in these other plots where we don’t have the protection of Bird Gard bird repellers, we have never been able to collect complete grape samples any year.
Only in the plot where we have installed the Bird Gard Super Pro bird deterrent, have we been able to harvest grapes successfully to complete our research work. In fact, due to this problem, we have been forced to extend the experimental period for another year, delaying the presentation of the doctoral thesis by one year.”
Do birds become accustomed to the sounds of the BirdGard deterrent?
Dr. Martínez comments:
“We have been using it for several years now, season after season, since 2017, and so far there has been no habituation of the birds to the sounds.”
And she continues:
“We are vigilant, but we must say that so far, the birds have not become accustomed to the sounds emitted by the BirdGard bird deterrent. Something that, however, we found to be the case with the cannons.”
How are the BirdGard bird deterrents installed in your vineyards?
When Dr. Martínez answers this question, she makes it clear that they do indeed do a lot of fieldwork. Dr. Martínez knows in detail how the BirdGard bird repeller is installed in the Asturias vineyard:
“As we can see in the video, we have a BirdGard Super Pro bird deterrent with chip #61 installed in the Asturias vineyard.
The bird deterrent has a central unit and four external speakers. We have the central unit in the center of the vineyard, and the speakers are separated from the central unit by the 30-meter cables they come with. The speakers are fastened with ties to metal posts about 2 meters high. The cables are attached to the trellises of the vineyard to avoid accidentally cutting them during harvest.”
The bird deterrent is set to emit sounds only during the day. There is no problem with birds in the vineyard at night. Since we installed it in 2017, we have used the BirdGard bird deterrent every season. It is installed from the time the grapes start to color until the harvest in October.
As I mentioned earlier, we have over 100 different grape varieties with different ripening times, some earlier than others, so the bird deterrent is scaring birds away from the vineyard for several months each year.”
Do you recommend BirdGard bird deterrents to other vineyard owners for bird control?
Dr. Martínez states:
“For now, yes. We recommend BirdGard bird repellers to all vineyard owners who ask us. We believe it is a very interesting method for protecting vineyards from bird attacks.
Many vineyard owners ask us about the bird deterrent, they are interested in it, they take photos. But it is not a cheap solution, and they want to be sure it works.
In this regard, although we have not conducted a comprehensive and rigorous study of the solution, what we clearly observe in the field is that since we have installed BirdGard bird deterrents, we prevent birds from eating the grapes.
With the protection of BirdGard bird deterrents in the vineyard, we can collect the grape samples we need for our studies. And this did not happen before having them.”
And then Dr. Martínez further clarifies:
“This is our experience, but – for now – there is no rigorous study behind it to support it.
Spain has the largest vineyard area in the world. We cultivate many different grape varieties. We have a diverse topography and vegetation around our vineyards.
And the bird problem is so enormous, it is of such magnitude, that vineyard owners are desperate due to bird attacks on their vineyards.
Therefore, it would be very interesting to carry out a research project, probably under the framework of R&D projects with CDTI, involving the industrial sector (e.g., wineries, product companies like BirdGard Iberia, …) and research groups (e.g., CSIC) to rigorously analyze the effectiveness of sound-based bird deterrents in scaring different bird species, in different vineyard topographies, and with different grape varieties.”
At BirdGard Iberia, we are proud to contribute to the fact that the group led by Dr. Martínez has managed to scare birds away from vineyards and have the grape samples they need every season to continue their viticulture and winemaking research.
Other References of Bird Gard Repellers in Agriculture
The following articles are references from BirdGard Iberia customers who use Bird Gard repellers to scare away flocks of starlings:
- How to scare away pigeons. Good advice on the best anti-pigeon products to use in each case.
- Read the experience of José Luis López Budia, a farmer in Cifuentes who explains how he has managed to protect his almond and cherry orchard from the attacks of woodpeckers and thrushes.
- Gobierno de la Rioja: installation of BirdGard bird deterrents in three experimental blueberry and berry plantations.
- Bird Deterrents used to minimize the electric microcuts caused by starling flocks on power lines. Reference: Iberdrola
- Experience from one of BirdGard Iberia’s customers using the Bird Gard Pro bioacoustic deterrent to get rid of starlings in their tourist complex in Mahón.
- Check other Customer References from BirdGard Iberia