Thousands of magpie geese decimate hay crops despite gas guns, laser deterrents

Thousands of magpie geese decimate hay crops despite gas guns, laser deterrents

Tens of thousands of magpie geese have decimated hay and seed crops in the Northern Territory’s Douglas Daly region.

The native birds are a common sight in the agricultural region, 200 kilometres south of Darwin, but farmers say magpie geese have caused much more trouble this year. 

“Half the sky was going dark, like a cloud coming over, that’s how bad they were,” Bindaroo Pastures farmhand Pete Wirraha said.

The magpie geese have been flying into paddocks, and trampling and eating hay for several months.

The magpie geese have a particular fondness for cavalcade.(ABC Rural: Jan Kohout)

Bindaroo owner Chris Howie estimated he had lost about 40 or 50 hectares of pasture legume cavalcade to the magpie geese.

“If they attack a grass crop, they just take the seed, whereas if they come in the cavalcade crop, they take everything, leaves, stems, they are just eating it whole,” he said.

“The trampling effect is caused by a big mob of birds trampling through a paddock as they go, as well as eating it, so it’s a double whammy.”

The magpie geese have also attacked crops at the NT government’s nearby Douglas Daly Research Farm.

Magpie geese in a wet and destroyed hay crop at the Douglas Daly Research Farm.(ABC Rural: Jan Kohout)

Farm manager Jamie Marschall said both crops used for trials and hay had been all but destroyed.

“We had mass numbers of magpie geese move in from mid to late January and they’ve decimated the whole paddock,” he said.

“They’ve damaged the rotational trial of the soybean crop as well.”

Magpie geese have long been a problem for mango growers in the Darwin region and the birds were also one of the main reasons a rice project at Humpty Doo failed in the 1960s.

Farm assistant Pete Wirraha shooting a deterrence shot to chase away a flock of magpie geese.(ABC Rural: Jan Kohout)

Chasing and shooting geese only a temporary solution

Farmers have been trying many ways to get their magpie geese off their crops, like scaring them with gas guns and lasers, chasing them in vehicles, and even shooting some birds.

Blackbull Station manager Logan Reid said most of his efforts had not worked with about 80 hectares of hay crop eaten by the magpie geese.

“It’s a never-ending battle that you just don’t seem to win,” he said.

“You try to chase them off with guns or gas guns but they just fly to one spot onto the neighbours’ property, then they chase them back to us.”

At Bindaroo, Mr Howie said he had run out of ways to combat the geese and believed his losses would have been worse if he had not spent most nights trying to scare them away.

“We’ve worn out a few buggies and quad bikes chasing geese and a few rifles shooting at them,” he said.

“We’ve used spotlights a lot while driving the buggy — they don’t like that — and laser lights … sometimes they mind it, other times they don’t.

“We’ve used gas guns, but they’re a waste of time. They get used to them and have zero effect.”

Thousands of magpie geese have descended on the Douglas-Daly.(ABC Rural: Jan Kohout)

Artificial intelligence noise system

In the short-term, farmers are hoping the magpie geese will retreat away from their farms to Top End wetlands as the dry season arrives. 

However, the Douglas Daly Research Farm will soon trial an artificial-intelligence-based system that aims to move the birds away through noise.

BirdSol chief executive John Kapeleris said his company’s Cherrp system was “programmed to recognise a particular problem species”.

“It understands the species’ vocalisations and communicates with those bird species acoustically in their own language to displace and deter those birds and then attract them to sanctuaries or other locations where the bird is wanted.”

“Cherrp is a behavioural communication system that naturally influences bird behaviour rather than act as a generic scaring system, which birds quickly begin to ignore because they become accustomed to it.”

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