Edible Landscaping

How to: Control Birds in the Berry Patch

Netting is a good option to keep birds off your berry bushes. Consider building a structure to drape the netting on so it doesn't harm the bush and makes picking easier.

Birds will be scanning the horizon looking for your ripe fruits. If possible, plant away from hedgerows and trees where birds can launch their attacks.

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and grapes are some of the easiest and most luscious fruits to grow in your edible landscape. However, as simple and versatile as they are to grow, they're not without problems. While I'm able to deal with insects and diseases through variety selection, proper planting, cultural techniques, and organic sprays, birds are another matter.

It seems birds love to lie in wait for my berries to ripen. Then they can pounce on the crop if it's not protected. I once saw an entire crop of blueberries wiped out by a marauding band of cedar waxwings. Starlings, jays, crows, blackbirds, and robins are some of the other birds known to swipe your berries. They don't all just eat the berries and run. Some cause damage by pecking or clawing at fruit, opening the fruit up to rotting. Other larger birds will knock ripe fruit off the plant as they fly in and out. It's a sure way to get frustrated to work so hard to produce a crop, only to have our feathered "friends" wipe it out.

But there are solutions that will allow you to get the berries and not harm the birds. Here are some methods to try in your yard.

1) Berry Planting Locations. Where you plant your berry patch can influence the amount of damage birds cause. Locate your berry patch away from woods, hedgerows, and brushy fields where birds can hide and eat. Remove weeds and grasses to discourage seed-eating birds, such as finches, from hanging around the berry patch. Although I always try to advocate for small plantings of berries around houses, larger plants tend to have less damage percentage-wise because there is that much more to eat. Grow late maturing varieties. Birds will have more native fruits to eat by then and may be less interested in your berry patch.

2) Bird Exclusion. This is the most effective way to keep birds from your berries. While it's costly and time consuming to net a large area, for a small grower it's perfect. You can use plastic mesh netting or even floating row covers as a way to exclude birds. There are two ways to exclude birds from your berries. For a small planting, drape the netting over the bushes/plants. Row covers cause less damage than plastic netting. You'll have to remove it to harvest, and sometimes the netting will pull berries off the plant as it's taken on and off. The other option is to erect a structure to hold the netting. Pound posts in the ground to support the netting 6 to 10 feet above the ground. Drape and attach the netting to the posts. This allows you to enter and exit the planting without disturbing the netting. Although more costly and time consuming to initially set up, it's a lot less of a hassle when picking.

An extreme form of bird control is to hire a falconer. Some commercial growers use their services to keep birds away from their high valued crops.

If all else fails, consider feeding birds away from your berry patch. Hopefully, they won't consider your berries dessert.

3) Repellents. There are taste repellent sprays, such as Hinder, that you can spray on berries to deter birds' feeding. These should be applied as berries start to ripen and repeated, sometimes a few times a week, depending on the material.

4) Scare Devices. Visual scare devices, such as bird's-eye balloons and reflective tape, can be used in the berry patch to confuse and ward off birds. Erect these devices before berries ripen. They can be effective for up to a few weeks — maybe enough time to get a crop.

Sound-based scare devices, such as propane cannons and recorded bird distress calls, can also be effective at keeping birds out of the patch. However, they can be an annoyance to you and the neighbors.

Motion sensitive water sprayers can be hooked up to a hose to automatically go off when they sense any motion, such as birds flying in. This works well as long as pets, kids, and you don't forget and walk in front of a turned-on motion sensor.

5) Encourage Predators. Encourage predator owls and hawks to frequent the berry patch by erecting nest boxes. There's nothing like a soaring raptor to scare a flock of smaller birds away.

6) Feed the Birds. If all else fails and the birds are firmly established and planning family reunions at your berry patch, consider feeding them by growing sunflowers or setting up feeders elsewhere on your property to lure them away from the berries. You'll still get to enjoy the birds, but hopefully they won't be enjoying your berries as much.

More information on bird controls:

Birds
Bye Bye Birdie: Bird Management Strategies for Small Fruits

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