As my blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are beginning to ripen, I have started thinking about birds—the bane of many small-scale berry growers. In fact, just this morning, I noticed that nearly half of the red unripe blackberries on my canes had gone missing in the last 24 hours. The heist was almost certainly perpetrated by some nefarious neighborhood birds.
Unlike commercial berry farms, I do not have the advantage of large harvests. For big farmers, the berries lost to birds are an expected and budgeted loss and not half as devastating. For folks like me that only grow a few berry bushes around the house, a hungry flock of birds can entirely decimate your crop for the whole year.
Four of the most widespread and common berry eaters found in large parts of the United States include the European starling, the red-winged blackbird, the house finch and the cedar waxwing. Other common berry-eating birds include gulls, crows, robins, grackles, orioles, thrushes and woodpeckers. Luckily there are some effective solutions that can help deter or exclude birds from your precious berries.
Barrier To Entry
Exclusion is the best option for the urban berry grower. Meshing and floating row covers that physically keep birds from reaching your berries. Floating row covers work well with low-growing crops like strawberries, while mesh netting is preferred for taller plants like blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Either drop the netting directly on top of plants, or hang it on a frame erected around your plantings—the second option tends to be more successful because birds cannot sit on the netting and grab berries.
When using any type of netting, be sure to secure it flush with the ground or birds will duck under the edges to get their berries. Both netting and row covers should be placed on plants as berries are ripening to allow pollinators as much access as possible.
A still helpful, though less effective tactic is to scare birds away from your berries using deterrence methods, such as reflective flashing tape; scarecrows; and fake predators, like owls or hawks.
I don’t mean to vilify any of the above named bird species because they all play an important role in our natural environment, and I certainly don’t want to encourage any actions that threaten their populations. In fact, a final option to help lessen the bird predation on your berries may be to offer attractive feeders and a birdbath in other parts of your yard. The tasty snacks provided by you may lure the birds away from your berries and help hold their attention.