University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer News Article
line

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 deterrents.
--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 on fruits.
--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 fruit plants.
--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 living spaces).
--Reflective tape can be hung among plantings to startle birds as it dangles, but this visual deterrent works better if combined with a noise deterrent.
--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 staples.   


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