Knowledge To Grow – Protecting Fruit from Bird Damage

Talk to any fruit growing gardener about bird damage and you will likely hear a variety of solutions to deter them.  Birds can do so much damage to fruit, especially once it is ripe.  Crows, starlings, grackles and blackbirds, to name just a few, are notoriously destructive to fruit.  Yes, they are just doing what comes natural to them which is looking for a source of food, however there are some steps that a home gardener can take to prevent their feasting on your source of this winters jams and jellies.

There are a number of steps that can be taken to combat bird damage and most of them fall within three categories: frightening devices, mechanical barriers and habitat modification.

Consider planting serviceberry bushes, rudbeckias, sunflowers and coneflowers, whose seeds and berries birds are very fond of, in an area located away from your fruit planting.   Keep bird feeders filled with black-oil sunflower seeds and keep in mind that birds also feed on insects so they really are useful to have around.

I have found that netting works very well to protect my grapes, however, it must be installed so that it is not merely laying on top of my planting.  Birds are smart and will reach through the netting to eat the fruit.  Instead, support the netting with a system of posts and wires or twine.  Cut the bottom off of a 2-liter plastic bottle and nail it to the top of a wooden post to prevent any tears in your netting.  The netting must be anchored in the ground to prevent birds from entering. The birds will notice the change in the color of the fruit as it is ripening so apply the netting before the fruit ripens.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the big scare-eye balloons or inflatable owls which are hung on posts every 6 to 20 feet apart.  Birds will get used to them so these generally will work to keep birds away for 10 to 14 days.  Lay out some rubber snakes and change their location every day.  Just remember where you have placed them so you don’t scare the bejeebers out of yourself.  A solar powered great horned owl statue is available whose head turns and bobs every few minutes to mimic the real thing.  I would think that would get a bird’s attention.

Employing sound devices along with moving devices generally works the best.  Aluminum pie pans can be hung in pairs so that their sound and reflection, when they move, will startle birds and scare them away.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about gardening and related subjects can be found online. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.

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