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Quebec employs 21st-century scarecrows to protect crops

About 100 people try to keep birds from destroying crops

By Diego Flammini
Assistant Editor, North American Content

Quebec farmers are using a classic method of keeping birds away from their fields but with a modern-day twist.

About 100 people in the province are employed as human scarecrows. Their job, like that of the stuffed variety, is to prevent birds from destroying farmers’ field.

Yvon Berthiaume is one of these scarecrows. He patrols the Montérégie region, south of Montreal. He uses a gun that shoots blanks to scare the birds away. Sometimes, it can take three or four shots before the birds flee, he told CTV Montreal.

“if there are birds in a field, I take out the gun and get rid of them,” he told CBC Montreal. “They go somewhere else and we go somewhere else. I change places every day.”

The human scarecrow program costs about $250,000 annually to run. Funding is provided by the Quebec Farmers Union and the provincial government, according to CTV Montreal.

The federal government has provided some funding for the program since 2003 according to CBC.

The goal isn’t to completely stop the birds from eating the crops since it simply isn’t feasible.

Instead, the human scarecrows try to even out the damage that’s being done.

“Instead of eating for two hours in the same field and causing a lot of damage, they can eat maybe for an hour in the first field and another hour in a second field, then the damage is less serious in each field,” Jean-François Giroux, a biologist and director of the biology department at the Université du Quebec à Montréal, told CBC Montreal.

It’s estimated birds can destroy 30 per cent of crops in any given location.

“The birds fly behind us and eat all the seed,” Andre Lussier, who farms 750 acres, told CTV Montreal. “Especially if (the crops) start to grow a little bit, the geese come out and eat all the plants.”

The food in farmers’ field is high in energy and can give snow geese a higher chance of success to travel to the arctic to lay their eggs, Giroux told CBC.

Quebec isn’t the only location to employ human scarecrows.

In 2012, Jamie Fox, an English and music graduate from Bangor University in Wales, earned £250 (US$318) per week to scare birds away from a 10-acre oilseed rape field.

Fox put his education to good use by using an accordion and cowbell to scare the birds away.

“It’s not a bad job…,” he told BBC in 2012. “A couple of my friends in busier, more generously-paid jobs, are slightly envious.”

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