It’s Orchardist Vs. Birds In The Battle For Cherries

After losing a crop of cherries to hungry birds, an orchardist makes plans to defend his next crop of ripening fruit with protective bird netting.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

One of my favorite trees in my orchard is a young Bali cherry tree. Despite its diminutive size (it’s no taller than I am), it’s blossomed beautifully every year since planting in 2019. And fruit production is starting to pick up. I enjoyed a few delicious cherries off the tree in 2020. But 2021 was a different story. Just as the cherries were ripening to perfect readiness, birds swept in and stole the crop in a single day.

Now, by “crop,” I mean approximately 25 cherries. It’s not like the birds made off with hundreds of cherries in the blink of an eye. But that’s little consolation to an orchardist disappointed in missing out on his once-per-year cherry harvest.

The birds may have scored a point, but this match is far from over. This year, my Bali cherry tree is producing cherries in abundance, and I expect they’re about a month away from ripening. The birds won’t catch me by surprise this time around.

I’m ready to battle for my fruit, but how to keep birds out of cherry trees?

Read more: Orchards in cold regions? You can do it!

Options Abound

Birds, orchardists and cherries have a long and intertwined history. I’m hardly alone in having issues with birds eating orchard-grown cherries. Conduct the slightest amount of research into ways of protecting cherries from birds, and you’ll come across an impressive array of tricks and tips for how to protect cherry trees from birds.

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Many of the tactics involve scaring birds away. The list of options goes on and on:

  • Install decoy predators and move them around daily to keep birds at bay.
  • Employ motion detectors that use audio to project scary noises through the orchard
  • Hang reflective tape or other shiny items in my trees to provide a simple visual scare

I could also endeavor to draw birds away by providing more enticing sources of food, either with bird feeders or by planting other tasty berries and fruits birds enjoy. But of course, the planting approach would take time. And there are already plenty of other options for birds to eat. Black cherries and chokecherries grow across my farm, but evidently my Bali cherries are preferable.

Read more: Grow a mixed sunflower garden to attract birds and attention!

Tried & True

Truth be told, I’m not too keen on experimenting with how to keep birds away from cherry trees. I want an approach guaranteed to work. Decoy predators might work … or they might not. Motion detectors sound fancy … but will they be effective?

There’s probably an approach (or a combination of approaches) that would work. But I only have one Bali cherry and one opportunity per year to harvest. I don’t want to shrug my shoulders a month from now and say, “Well, that method of protection didn’t work! Better try a different one next year.”

Instead, I’m going to take advantage of my Bali cherry’s small size and protect it with bird netting. If the birds can’t physically reach the cherries, they can’t steal them. My chances for a satisfying harvest, as a result, will increase exponentially.

Since the tree is only about 6 feet tall and not especially wide, I can use T-posts and/or scrap lumber to build a straightforward square frame around the tree. By installing the bird netting over the frame, I can keep the netting away from the branches and prevent birds from reaching through to grab the fruit.

My Bali cherry tree is a beautiful, lush specimen all throughout the spring, summer and fall. And its vibrant bark is attractive in winter.

Even without fruit, it’s a pleasure to have in my orchard. But outsmarting the birds and harvesting fruit this summer will be a (literal) cherry on top!

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