GARDEN WORKS: Not for the birds! Protect your berries from aerial assaults

An example of bird netting.

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

“Swoop! Dive! Flap!” go their wings as they raid my beloved berry patch, their beaks voraciously plucking choice berries with no regard to how many backbreaking hours I’ve spent growing them. As I attempt to harvest the leftovers and shoo them away, the birds whiz by and release their droppings in what seems like a sinister game to deter me from “their” buffet. I can’t help but feel under attack!

Does this sound familiar to you? Most berry growers at some point have experienced competition from our flying feathered friends. This article was written for those of us who need tips on how to protect berries
from hungry birds, or at least to keep their damage to a minimum. The tricks up our sleeves include visual and auditory deterrents, netting, and other ideas that will hopefully help a hardworking gardener keep her sanity.

I’ll start with the least expensive option— visual deterrents. Materials that reflect sunlight and move around in a breeze may create an illusion of fire and frighten a bird away. Aluminum pie pans strategically hung around the garden work accordingly. “Flash tape”, a long strip of coated metallic material, has been quite effective in my garden – even for cedar waxwings. It is unrolled and strung slightly twisted from one side of the garden to the other in several parallel rows, or dangled from branches. FEDCO and Johnny’s carries it (and most of the products mentioned in this article), though a thicker, more effective version is found online.

“Scare balloons,” faux owls, and other predator facsimiles may or may not work as well as the real thing, and should be moved around often for maximum effect.

Now – thunderous drum roll, please! There is a product on the market that uses explosions to deter birds. No kidding! If you (and your neighborhood) like loud noises and bright flashes, it might be perfect for you. This thing-that-goes-boom attaches to a propane tank and intermittently blasts off at random, unpredictable intervals, terrifying every living creature in its vicinity. Let me know how it works for you.

Since birds such as cedar waxwings are bold and descend upon the berry patch in groups of several birds, they are especially difficult to control. And, no, you can’t just wait there for them with a .22, since songbirds are protected species. As annoying as it sounds, you actually have to place a barrier between the berries and the birds. Behold the bird netting! If you have just a few plants, it shouldn’t be a great big deal. More than a few, however, and it could become expensive. Just remember, though, that this might be the most effective method.

Another way to keep birds out of the berry patch includes planting native trees and shrubs that they prefer away from the garden. The idea is that they will be attracted to these instead of the garden, though I wonder if this will actually summon all the birds in the neighborhood to your spot. Serviceberries, as delicious as they are, can be especially problematic – as the cedar waxwings will decimate them before they’re even ripe and then move on to the berry patch. However, I’ve found that mulberry trees produce so many mulberries that there are usually enough to share.

Whatever deterrents are employed, it’s important to remember to use them before the berries begin to ripen. Once birds are established in the garden, they are harder to get rid of. If you need advice, the folks at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are a good place to call.

However, we enjoy our berries, may they NOT be for the birds!


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