To the gardener, birds are both friends and foes. While they eat insect pests, many birds also consume entire fruits or vegetables or will pick at your produce, leaving damage that invites disease and spoils your harvest.
Some of the birds likely to raid your vegetable gardens are blue jays and blackbirds such as crows, starlings, and grackles. If you grow berries or tree fruit, you may find yourself playing host to beautiful but hungry songbirds such as cedar waxwings and orioles. You’ll have to decide which you enjoy more—eating the fruit or birdwatching!
Many gardeners report success in using commercial or homemade devices to frighten birds away from their crops.
Fake enemies: You can scare birds by fooling them into thinking their enemies are present. Try placing inflatable, solid, or silhouetted likenesses of snakes, hawks, or owls strategically around your garden to discourage both birds and small mammals. They’ll be most effective if you occasionally reposition them so that they appear to move about the garden. Hang “scare-eye” and hawklike balloons and kites that mimic bird predators in large plantings. Use 4 to 8 balloons per acre in orchards or small fruit or sweet corn plantings.
Weird noises: Unusual noises can also frighten birds. A humming line works well in a strawberry patch or vegetable garden. The line, made of very thin nylon, vibrates in even the slightest breeze. The movement creates humming noises inaudible to us, but readily heard and avoided by birds. Leaving a radio on at night in the garden can scare away some pests. A word to the wise: Commercially available ultrasonic devices that purport to scare animal and bird pests are unreliable.
Flashes of light: Try fastening aluminum pie plates or unwanted CDs to stakes with strings in and around your garden. Blinking lights may work, too.
Sticky surfaces: Another tactic that may annoy or scare birds is to coat surfaces near the garden where they might roost with Bird Tanglefoot.
And don’t forget two tried-and-true methods: making a scarecrow and keeping a domestic dog on your property.
In general, birds feed most heavily in the morning and again in late afternoon. Schedule your control tactics to coincide with feeding times. Many birds have a decided preference for certain crops. Damage may be seasonal, depending on harvest time of their favorite foods.
You can control bird damage through habitat management or by blocking their access or scaring them away from your garden (see “Scare Tactics”). For any method, it is important to identify the bird. A control effective for one species may not work for another. Also, you don’t want to mistakenly scare or repel beneficial birds.
Try these steps to change the garden environment to discourage pesky birds:
You can also take steps to prevent birds from reaching your crops. The most effective way is to cover bushes and trees with lightweight plastic netting, and to cover crop rows with floating row covers.