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Save Your Berries From the Hungry Birds

While our friends Down Under are basking in gardening season, we in the Frozen North can’t see our gardens for snowdrifts… ah, but that never stopped a keen gardener from planning ahead for a new season’s harvest!

Me, I’m dreaming of sweet strawberries, fat gooseberries, tart white currants, raspberries bursting sweet on my tongue, blueberries hanging in dusty indigo clusters…

Too easy, from the vantage point of winter dreams, to forget one of the great frustrations of growing your own food — the constant battle to defend it against wildlife!

Birds, in particular, can be quite tricky when it comes to raiding the berry patch. Fortunately, we gardeners can get inventive when it comes to protecting our fruit and berries from hungry birds!

Below you’ll find some of the most popular bird-repelling methods. Some we’ve tried, some are on the list. In any case, if berry-stealing birds are driving you to distraction, have a look here for pest control solutions that could save your harvest.

Bird Netting

Sure, you can spread a fine mesh garden net over the strawberry beds and currant bushes to protect your drop, but it’s not all that attractive when you get close-up. Plus, if you’re growing a lot of different berries, the cost for bird netting can get ridiculously expensive. Fine for a small home garden patch, but not the best option for an ambitious homesteader! Still, the bird netting is definitely effective.

Strings, Tapes, Sticky Stuff, Balloons, and Other Bird-Scaring Tactics

There are sticky substances to smear on bird-popular tree limbs, motion activated noisemakers, and all manner of hi-tech electronic devices designed to drive the birds away.

Some gardeners have had good luck with stringing fine line in a cris-cross fashion between poles in the garden, but I am not one of those people.

If the strings is too loose, the poor little birds can get tangled up or trapped down below among the fruiting plants — not nice, either way. And if the strings are too loose, it’s just a lovely perch on which the birds can rest while they decide the best way to get through and eat your berries anyway.

bird-scare-balloonAnd it’s not that I would ever want to live without songbirds in the yard — I’d just prefer them to go eat the bitter wild chokecherries and leave my garden alone!

Then there are the bright balloons with big scary eyes, and glittering reflective tape that you’re meant to drape about the yard. I can’t tell you from firsthand experience if they work or not, but my father used to put up these big-eyed bird-repelling balloons every year among his apple trees and cherry trees. He was  well pleased with how they worked to scare the fruit-pecking birds away.

But the way I see it, who wants to look at a mess of strange scary objects all over the yard, amongst the pretty fruit and flowers?

Realistic or Decorative Fake Predators

Garden Hose Snake

A more discreet solution that works quite well for my hobby-farmer friends downriver is to fool the birds into thinking the berry patch is full of snakes.

They cut up an old length of garden hose into pieces about 16 or 18 inches long and lay those bits of hose among the garden plants.

Apparently, to the birds, the recycled hose looks like so many snakes, lying in wait for lunch! So the birds stay clear of landing in the berry patch.

copper-garden-snakeCopper Garden Snake Sculpture

Which brings me to the beautiful copper garden snake from Modern Artisans at Amazon. I’m not sure if it would protect the berries from birds as well as my friends’ old hose sections do, but at least it would be something lovely to look at in the garden…

You know, something more decorative than a lot of bird tracks in the dirt and sad strawberry plants from which every fruit has been stripped!

Faux Owls

You know those big plastic owls that some city folk use to scare pigeons away from their balconies? You’ll see a fair number of those out here in the country, too, perched on poles around the kitchen garden.

My own experience is that the berry-stealing birds are scared of this watching “predator” at first, but by the time the crop is ripening, they’ve figured out that there’s nothing to fear from the fake owl figure.

Now they make a version of the owls with rotating heads, which sounds like it could be an improvement.

But if you don’t want to invest in a motorized owl or you can’t find one locally, just adding some element of the unexpected will help. Obviously, movement is ideal to make the birds think the owl is real… so you may want to move your fake owl figure around from place to place in your garden, every few days.

Or… Grow Berries That Don’t Look Ripe, Even When They Are

white strawberriesThere is one thing that has worked for me with strawberries, over the years. I have given up completely on the usual large red berries and grow only white strawberries.

Yes, white!

Well, more of a creamy off-white, the colour that normal strawberries are before they start to turn red and ripe…

These strawberries simply stay that colour — they ripen beautifully without ever turning red, so the birds (and kids) can’t tell when they’re ripe and ready to eat.

White strawberries are not quite as large as the more widely grown red-fruited varieties, but they bear a great many berries to make up for it. The tiny Alpine strawberries are available as white ones, too, but mine are a hardy old-fashioned bunch that I swiped from my grandfather’s garden, and the fruit is larger than the Alpine strawberries.

As sweet as you could ever wish for, though, with a faint sun-warmed pineapple flavor — just as sweet as those wild strawberries we used to pick at the sunny edges where hay fields met hedgerows, back in that endless summertime when we were kids.

5 comments… add one
  • Hypertufa Gardener 2008/02/29, 1:55 am

    I love the article! I know I have problems with birds not only eating my berries and grapes but my fish in my pond as well. Netting is useful and has worked for me but a lot of those things like you say can be unattractive in your garden. Netting was the only way to stop mine.

    It’s funny my wife just told me about the snake idea like a month ago and now I see it here. She actually heard it from a local farmer around her but it was meant for plants it was for keeping them birds from ripping up their garbage bags at the road on garbage day. Like you said they are afraid of snakes so what they did was put rope by the bags on it and around it and the black birds never touch them. It’s a very cool idea and I will give it a try here too for both garbage and my garden.

    I have never seen white strawberries before. This is the first for me. Do they taste exactly the same as red strawberries really?

    I love your blog, very informative and I will keep coming by.

    Sincerely,

    Jamie Boyle
    The Goldfish Guy

  • HowToMe 2008/01/31, 9:55 pm

    We grow a row of blueberries and have heard that if the birds become a problem that the garden hose “snake” is the way to go. This post fascinated me. Thank you for the time you put into it. :-)

  • Aaron Stroud 2008/01/30, 3:33 pm

    We’ll be starting off small, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep the garden and a few fruit trees surrounded by a fence. We’ll make sure there isn’t any room to jump in and out of it, because I hear they’ll happily hop in if it looks like they can get back out.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have an easy solution like keeping dogs outside. Our dog is a member of the family, so she sleeps inside. The next couple of dogs will be treated the same…but perhaps their urine might keep the deer away? We have neighbors who keep a garden and haven’t had problems with deer.

  • domestika 2008/01/30, 1:41 pm

    Aaron, glad to hear you’re planning a garden! As you live in the woods, it’s not a bad plan to give some advance thought to dealing with the hungry wildlife… deer, for example. Cute, those white-tailed brothers of Bambi, yes. But don’t get me started (again) on the eating habits of those bold deer!!

  • Aaron Stroud 2008/01/28, 8:16 pm

    Great post! My wife and I are looking forward to starting our first garden next year. We’re going to start small, but we have plenty of space to expand (a handful of acres…) The white strawberries sound particularly exciting. I just gave our somewhat local nursery a quick search and they have ‘white alpine strawberries’, yellow ones, and several other varieties!

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