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How To Protect Fruit Trees From Birds

If you put a good deal of care into growing fruit trees, there are likely some birds who will take advantage of your effort. Here's Angela O'Callaghan.

Even though I usually describe myself as a “vegetable specialist”, since I’ve been here in the great American Southwest, I’ve become a fan of fruit trees. I truly think that in Southern Nevada we produce some of the tastiest fruit anywhere. This is my opinion, now, not research based. I wonder if the challenging conditions that these poor plants are trying to grow under makes them more flavorful.  Maybe it’s all the boron.

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At any rate, is there anything more wonderful than the time when nectarines, apricots and grapes begin to ripen on our backyard fruit trees and vines?  Is there anything more distressing than seeing bird pecks on our potentially delicious fruit?

Birds are wonderful – their songs and antics can be truly entertaining, especially in winter when so many trees have lost their leaves. That winter’s entertainment can become a summertime’s pest though, since birds enjoy that fruit fresh from the tree just as much as people do. Keeping them from devastating a fruit crop can be a major effort for any backyard orchardist, who may need to try several methods.

It’s not the birds’ fault. Probably they’ve become accustomed to coming to a yard in the winter because some considerate person put out birdseed. I’ve done that; so many of us have. When fruit appears in the same general location, however, they apparently think that some benefactor graciously put that out for them as well. They don’t seem to grasp the concept that they’re welcome to come and have a snack only during cool temperatures.

A quick web search for “keeping birds out of fruit trees” produces more than one and a half million results, so this is clearly not an isolated problem. There are so many online site to purchase items in addition to what’s available at the local home stores. There’re many conceivable solutions, some of which are more effective than others.  One can buy spiked barriers, which’ll prevent pests from sitting on roofs. There’s also a substance you can apply to surfaces where birds lite and it’s tacky, unpleasant on their feet.

These are fine for deterring pigeons or starlings from rooftops, but isn’t going to do much for the finches and mockingbirds who settle in trees for a nibble.

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Bird netting, which is a wide gauge plastic mesh, excludes them from branches and pecking the ripening peaches and everything else, but it’s difficult to place netting over a tree, even a dwarf tree, singlehandedly, so make sure you have some help.

It’s easier to drape the netting over grape vines, but some birds’ll poke through the netting to get at the fruit. Mockingbirds are true villains – very skilled at retrieving grapes from nets.

The majority of the tools to repel annoying birds seem to rely on fright and confusion to deter them. Various noisemaking devices produce distress calls and predator calls; and these are available to chase away bird pests.

Decoys that look like owls and other birds of prey are common, and some people have found them reasonably useful. You can string a thin roll of Mylar film loosely through the tree, and the movement of the light on the shiny surface is confusing. There’re balloons that look like enormous eyes; some people I know swear by them.

It’s also possible to recycle items that most people have in their homes. Crumpled balls of aluminum foil hanging from branches, birds don’t like to be around them, but CDs from obsolete computer software are even more effective. And simple. Just run a string through the hole in the disk and hang it from a branch where it can spin in the breeze. The light show that it produces is quite the deterrent. Most of the pests who’d otherwise be around seem daunted by it.  

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Birds are, however, surprisingly intelligent, and eventually they’ll just ignore almost any single decoy. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a number of methods in the backyard orchardist toolkit. Change the CD’s around, at least, and put up some more, if you can. 

Above all, remember that some fruit must be theirs. I figure they have the top 25 or 30% of the tree.

It’s best to add or move CDs, use water and noise, and most important, keep vigilant. Yes, bird song is wonderful, but I enjoy it more away from my fruit trees.

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan. Enjoy your harvest!
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