University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
PREVENTING BIRD DAMAGE TO FRUITS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor
University of Vermont
If you are growing small fruits such as various berries, or fruit trees with
small fruits like cherries, you may need to consider some form of protection
against birds eating them. If that is your goal—to feed wildlife—then
this is not a problem. Or, if you have a large planting, there may be
plenty for both birds and humans.
Consider planting some fruits that birds love, such as shadbush (also known
as serviceberry or June berry as that is when it fruits), and protect others
such as blueberries for yourself. My wife and I originally had hopes
of having a few June berries, but have given these large shrubs up to the
birds and focus on other fruiting bushes now instead. June berries
attract all types of birds, including less commonly seen ones, and even some
other wildlife such as chipmunks. They’ll eat the June berries even
when they are half-ripe.
Blueberries are a favorite food of many birds. Most often seen feeding
on them in our region are robins, followed next by blue jays. The
latter also may peck at peaches, pears and apples, as will crows. If
so, leave these fruit for them to peck so that you’ll get some whole fruit
to eat too.
Strawberries are especially at risk if cedar waxwings are nearby, or wild
turkeys. The latter also are attracted to fruit drops. Cherries, best
protected by netting, are usually fed on by cedar waxwings, starlings,
crows, and blackbirds. Grapes—dark fruit more than green—commonly are fed on
by robins, starlings, and crows. Few if any birds feed on raspberries.
If you do want to protect fruits from bird feeding, keep some tips in mind.
--It is easier to prevent damage by installing deterrents just before fruits
start to ripen. Don’t install too early, or birds will get accustomed
to them. Only use as, and when, needed.
--Birds (just as deer) learn quickly, so alternate deterrent methods or
scare devices regularly.
--If possible, best control comes from using both audible and visual
--Netting is the best method of prevention, and works for all species, but
is the most time-
consuming and costly to install.
--Often it is easier to scare away visiting flocks than resident birds.
Birds that you often see in flocks are cedar waxwings, evening grosbeaks,
red-winged blackbirds, grackles, and starlings.
--Birds are useful to have around properties not only for aesthetics, but
for their main diet which is insects. For this reason and others, lethal
control methods should be avoided.
Here are some common and easy deterrents that may help prevent bird feeding
--Bird feeders, with good seeds such as black-oil sunflower, may attract
birds and keep their feeding on fruits minimal, particularly if away from
fruit plantings. This may help with evening grosbeaks which eat fruit
buds. Similarly, plantings of species with seeds birds like such as
coneflowers, sunflowers, and rudbeckias may attract them away from your
--Consider putting up a birdhouse designed for kestrels (sparrow hawks),
particularly around strawberries. Don’t put this near feeders, or if
you want other birds nearby, as hawks scare many small birds away.
Many gardeners report success with inflatable owls attached to poles.
Move them to a different location daily to keep birds off-guard.
--Keeping fruit trees free of insects, which you probably would do anyway as
part of good fruit culture, makes them less attractive to birds.
--Since birds often feed at dusk or dawn, lights (solar or powered) with
motion sensors may scare away birds. If possible, make them portable
so they can be moved about every few days.
--If you visit a u-pick orchard you may hear periodic cannon bursts—sounds
installed just to deter birds. Or, you may hear electronic bird
distress calls. These usually are not desirable around homes or in
neighborhoods so, instead, hang aluminum pie pans in pairs. Both the
reflection and sound as they move will startle birds. Look in garage
sales, flea markets, and gift or toy shops for other hanging objects that
make noise (particularly ones that aren’t objectionable if they’re near your
--Reflective tape can be hung among plantings to startle birds as it
dangles, but this visual deterrent works better if combined with a noise
--A local fast-food restaurant has stretched strands of inconspicuous
fishing line, about 6 inches apart, above their patio area to deter seagulls
from coming to eat French fries. A similar “trellis” just above fruit
plantings may deter larger birds.
--Scare-eye balloons—large, filled with air, and with large eyes on the
sides—are hung on posts every six to 20 yards apart. They are
effective at scaring birds for 10 to 14 days.
--Unobtrusive, black mesh bird netting most commonly is seen installed over
blueberries, sometimes over grapes. It is best supported on a network
of posts and wires, rather than laid directly on the bushes. The
latter allows birds to reach through the netting for fruit.
You can use 4-inch square, treated posts, set a couple
feet in the ground. Use bottoms cut from soda bottles on top to
prevent posts from tearing netting. Use wires (dark, 12-guage
monofilament is best) strung between posts to support netting. Make
sure you have an entry to the structure, but keep it closed so birds won’t
fly in and get trapped. For the same reason, make sure the base is
anchored tightly to the ground, as with a board or ground
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