Bird Control in the Garden

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Scare-eye balloon used to keep birds away from fruit and vegetables

The sound of bird chatter is music to a nature lover's ears, and it's always a happy sight to see birds swooping into the garden to nab caterpillars and other insects. Yet our wild bird friends can turn into foes when they start pecking up seedlings or stealing berries. When it comes to birds in the summer garden, sometimes you must step in and show them who's boss.

First, there are some bird control methods that just don't work. Hot pepper sprays are widely recommended to as a bird repellent, despite the fact that 30 years of research has shown that birds lack sensory receptors for capsaicin, the active principal in hot peppers. Mammals such as squirrels, rabbits or dogs can be deterred with hot pepper brews, but not birds. A fundamental weakness also makes ultrasonic devices worthless for bird control: birds cannot perceive ultrasonic sounds any better than we can. Garlic oil falls into a marginal category. In a New York study, European starlings fed bird seed scented with garlic oil reduced their food intake and started looking for a less aromatic food supplies, but who wants strawberries that smell like garlic?

Mirrors to frighten birds away from fruit

Bird Netting and Other Barriers

There is no question that the most effective way to control birds feeding on blueberries, raspberries and other high value fruits is to cover them with some type of net barrier. Products sold as bird netting will keep out birds, but I had two problems with it – the netting snares easily on thorny bramble fruits, and hummingbirds sometimes became entangled in it. Neither of these issues are relevant if you attach the netting to a rigid frame, so that it forms an enclosure around plants that is tight on all sides, but building a walk-in berry cage that will hold up to wind and weather is a complicated project. As an alternative, you can try lengths of voile or wedding net (tulle) fabric, draped over plants and fastened with clothespins. For temporary protection of ripening berries, these featherweight fabrics are hard to beat.

Of course, not all fruits are at risk. Birds on all continents recognize cherries and strawberries, but in the US non-native red raspberries are not fed upon as heavily as native black raspberries and blueberries, which wild birds have been eating for eons. In the UK, birds can't get enough blueberries and red currants, but seldom touch golden raspberries or gooseberries.

Covering plants with netting prevents birds from getting at the fruit

Scaring Away Hungry Birds

Crops that are only moderately attractive to birds often can be protected with various scare devices, keeping in mind that you might need a variety of methods. When Dutch researchers surveyed bird control methods at six large airports around the world, they found that the best bird control was achieved by watching the birds closely and changing scare tactics when they stopped being effective.

In large spaces like airports or farm fields, persistent birds like blackbirds and starlings scatter when they think they see a gigantic hawk hanging over the field. In the UK, the aptly-named Terror Hawk and Terror Kite convince birds to move on as they dance from 7 m (20 ft) poles, as can the Helikite, which stays airborne with the help of a helium-filled balloon.

But in a small garden, you can try cheap and easy bird control solutions like trimming fruit trees or berry bushes with pieces of reflective tape, small wind chimes that make noise and have metallic surfaces that reflect light, or old CDs or little mirrors. Blackbirds in particular seem wary of bright yellow anything, including plastic streamers. Some people tie plastic grocery bags around the outer edges of their gardens to deter birds and other pests, but flash tape and mirrors are much prettier.

Scarecrows can help keep birds away from your homegrown fruit

Most of these low-grade bird repellents will work for a week or two, and then you must change to something else. Small stuffed animals mounted on posts near ripening berries can be a fun rotation on the bird control front, and scarecrows can deter birds for a month if you reposition his or her hat and clothes and move it about from time to time. This is easiest to do if the scarecrow starts its life in a lawn chair that can be easily picked up and moved.

You can also use mean-looking scare-eye balloons, or even make one from a beach ball. As long as the object is strange, quivers or moves, and is bright yellow and bears circle-in-a-circle markings that look like the open mouth of a hawk, it will deter birds.

Personally I don't want to have such hostile-looking objects in my garden, so I'll stick with netting, shiny things, and an occasional scarecrow to establish peaceful coexistence with the wild birds that come after my crops. When the weather is kind and I attend to the garden with care, there is enough to share and we are all well fed and happy.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Show Comments


"The first thing that came to mind when I read Bird Control In The Garden is: I need Squirrel and Bug Control in "MY" garden. So far this year I'm feeling defeated in all aspects of gardening. The squirrels dug up then scattered 8 types of seeds...what a tangled mess when the seeds started growing. They also love to dig holes around other plants. Then there's flea beetles or something, loving my beautiful Bok Choy turning it into what looks like Frilly Doilies. Yah, the other greens too have been feasted on. I've tried a few organic home remedies, including Moth Balls (for the squirrels) nothing is working. The Mosquitoes...Clouds of them...loving the Endless Rain, (Southern Ontario Canada) loving me too...OUCH! Funny Looking: When in the garden, I dress like a Space Cadet "in White," to protect myself from more bites, while carrying around a Mosquito Coil, hoping to chase them away. On the Up Side On The Surface...the garden looks Beautiful...BORDERED with many's lush and green, loving the rain. I welcome any suggestions or garden hints. "
Gaia on Friday 5 July 2013
"Mosquitos do not like the smell of BASIL on my skin. Before I go into the garden, I grab one or two leaves from my basil plant and rub it all over my exposed skin. Rub it until the leave almost disintegrates and the oils transfer to your skin. It helps!"
Bunnie on Friday 5 July 2013
"Thanks Bunnie...I did not know that. I have a good potted crop of Basil. will certainly try this. "
Gaia on Friday 5 July 2013
"Bunnie is right! The effectiveness is only 30 minutes or so, but many crushed aromatic herbs repel mosquitoes. A wide-brimmed hat also deters them from your face. For squirrels you will need to protect plants with cages from fencing or chicken wire. And do replant bok choy for fall, its best season. Good luck! "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 5 July 2013
"I placed potted cactus plants in my strawberry patch to deter the birds. It seemed to work well! Now I have to figure out how to get rid of the bugs!"
Becca Sigwart on Friday 5 July 2013
"my husband came up with the idea of using ring pull lids from tins of sardines etc, washed of course, then twisted slightly and hung by thin string, they shine, turn and jangle and it seems to work"
diverte on Saturday 6 July 2013
"Thanks Barbara, some good suggestions, I love bok choy, I will plant it again. Diverte, thanks. Your husbands suggestion, sardine can lids...jangling in the wind...(we have lots of wind here too)with sardines in my cupboard...I'm well equipped! "
Gaia on Saturday 6 July 2013
"I was using tulle (leftover from a wedding) over my strawberries, and felt like the production when down. I'd have flowers, but no berries. I wondered if the tulle was keeping the bees away and the strawberries might need them to pollinate. So I took it off--soooo do the blossoms need to be available for pollination? The tulle has worked WONDERFULLY for my kale, bok choy, broccoli and cabbage--keeping them free from bugs and worms. I did have to put mulch and rocks over the edges to keep all entrances sealed. Makes it a little harder to get to but worth it--less trouble than picking worms out of broccoli! "
Janet on Saturday 6 July 2013
"Janet, many flying insects pollinate strawberries, so it's best to wait until the bloom period is ending to put on the tulle cover. If you are growing everbearing types that bloom for a long time, you might do better with a cover made from chicken wire or fine mesh fencing. Pollinating insects can get through it, but birds cannot. "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 8 July 2013
"Garden bird control is a hot topic during gardening season. Sometimes garden bird control may need to be considered to protect new vegetables or fruits from damage. " on Tuesday 9 July 2013
"q buenas ideas "
carina on Tuesday 17 March 2015
"Sardine tops/lids sounds like an excellent idea but the negative is that sometimes the birds beaks can get caught in these lids :. causing the bird not able to open up."
donna on Thursday 19 March 2015
"I haven't seen any birds get that close to the lids- they're too scared of the movement and sound."
diverte on Friday 20 March 2015
"I volunteer at a Botanical Garden, mosquitos just love me. One of the other workers says he puts a piece of bounce fabric softener in his hat, works every time !!"
Mary Hubner on Saturday 21 March 2015
"Birds can be a real problem with any garden and can be difficult to get avoid. The idea of the scare tactics is good and can be very effective. However, I think bird netting is still essential to get full protection for your garden."
Fran on Thursday 27 August 2015
"As CDs and CD roms are becoming obsolete and I've transferred all my music and data online, I have lots of them I find they work quite well. I drill a hole and string them over my fruit, beans and seeds. Much better to reuse than recycle! I might try a scarecrow neighbors already think I'm a bit crazy so nothing to lose. I also have a big problem with crows, who are very smart and very destructive...they'll even rip full size plants out of the ground. Hopefully a scare"crow" lives up to its name."
Sean Hale on Tuesday 19 June 2018

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