Who doesn’t love grabbing fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and huckleberries off the bush? Know who loves berries just as much as people do? Birds. They can’t resist a ripe, juicy berry, and who can blame them?
There are several techniques you can use to protect berries from birds.
There is a lot of misinformation out there about which methods work. This guide will dig through the details to help you understand how to keep those berries to yourself.
Which Birds Eat Berries?
When you look at birds, it’s hard to imagine that these little creatures need to eat so much food. They can eat up to 80% of their body weight each day. That means if you don’t protect berries from birds, they could strip your plant of fruit in no time.
Each bird species has its food preference.
Depending on the species, birds will eat leaves, nectar, grass, fruit, insects, fish, small mammals, or seeds. Some birds seek out berries because these fruits are nutritious. Berries are an important food source for birds as they have antioxidant properties.
Birds identify a berry’s quality and nutritional value by its color. For example, a study shows that the Eurasian blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) identifies the variation in anthocyanin levels in fruits using color and picks the most nutritious berries over others.
Scientific studies like this show that birds are focused on finding berries that give them the best nutritional value. Birds will target your crops if you have a healthy garden with abundant berries.
Here is a list of some of the most common birds that eat berries:
- Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus)
- Dark-Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
- Golden-Crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
- Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
- Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)
- Band-Tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata)
- Red-Eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus)
- American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
- Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)
- Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
- House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus)
- Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)
Any edible fruit is fair game, but blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), cherries (Prunus spp.), grapes (Vitis spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.), serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.), blackberries (Rubus spp.), and strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa) are favorites.
How to Protect Berries From Birds
The best way to ensure that you get to enjoy your berries before the birds do is to take a multi-pronged approach. Exclusion methods like netting or cages are the only methods that work well entirely independently.
1. Bird Nets
A bird net is a simple and highly effective method to protect berries from birds. Nets can be used in bigger spaces but are also suitable for a small crop of berry plants. Setting up a bird net to protect berries from birds is easy, as you only need a few materials.
You need poles, rope, stakes, and bird-friendly netting for a basic bird net. Pick a netting material that won’t entangle birds when they land on the surface. These are usually labeled as “bird safe.”
Lots of manufacturers make netting specifically for protecting plants from birds, like this black netting from Poyee at Amazon. Some kits include any stakes, rope, or poles that are needed.
Measure the length and width of the garden area to get the correct measurements for the bird net. You can use multiple nets, but make sure they overlap when you install them to prevent birds from sneaking in through the separation.
You can lay netting directly on plants, but it’s better to prop it up using poles or some other kind of frame. Tie the netting to the poles using twine, rope, or zip ties, and then secure the netting to the ground using rocks or stakes.
A teepee shape is an easy way to make the bird net stand above plants. A rectangular set-up is more effective for a raised bed or large area of berry plants.
Just remember that birds can get tangled and die in netting. Nets that are taut and firmly secured are less likely to tangle up our flying friends.
Cloches can be placed over individual plants, making them an easy solution to protect berries from birds for small plants like strawberries. You don’t have to cover the entire plant; the cloche can protect the berries in a small section.
There are affordable options like chicken wire cloches available online. It’s possible to build your own cloches with plastic.
Glass and plastic cloches raise the heat and humidity inside them, so use caution if you opt for one of these. Otherwise, wire cloches let air circulate and don’t raise the temperature. They also allow pollinators to access the plants.
Remember to hand pollinate during the flowering season if you use solid glass or plastic cloches. Otherwise, the flowers won’t be pollinated, and the quality of the fruit will decrease, or the fruit won’t form at all.
3. Crop Cages
Crop cages are more challenging to install than netting, but they’re much easier to use and don’t have the potential to become a tangled mess. You can purchase ready-made cages, or you can make a DIY option at home to protect berries from birds.
Netting can also become untucked, or critters might find their way under, giving birds access to the plant. Replacing the net every time it rips or tangles up can be frustrating.
Crop cages are typically more secure, and they can be made out of metal so there’s no ripping to worry about.
The downside is that they cost more and you need to have room to store them during the winter.
4. Provide Other Food
Food is the main attraction for wildlife in your garden, so you can solve the problem of berry picking with a simple solution: provide other food. Using bird feeders to distract these animals will prevent them from looking for food amongst your berries.
Plus, you don’t have to worry about them getting injured on netting or cages.
The bird feeders can go near the berry plants so they can land there. This will limit temptation and give them enough food to keep them busy for a few minutes. After a full stomach, they will hopefully move on to another location.
Check the feeder every day so it’s full at all times, and watch the birds snack on seeds while your strawberries bloom. Keeping a record of the different bird species that visit your garden is a great hobby for spring and summer.
Start a nature journal and make friends with these wildlife animals this year!
You can also just plant an extra bush or two if you have the room and let the birds have at it. That way, there’s enough for everyone!
5. Plant Berries That Birds Won’t Eat
If you mainly want berry plants for their appearance and not the harvest, you can protect berries from birds by planting species they won’t eat.
Red is one of the most prominent colors in the visual spectrum of passerines, so another option is to plant berries with different colors, like blue or purple.
Porcelain berries (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) are unique plants with pink stems and large berries. The color of the berries starts as a dark blue and fades to white or pale purple. While edible, they don’t taste good.
Other species of berries that are not popular with birds are:
- Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ is a cultivar with yellow-orange berries that birds will eventually eat, but only as a last resort. You can eat the fruits, but they’re sour.
- Harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii) has inedible pink berries.
- ‘Pirate King’ Barberry (Berberis x carminea ‘Pirate King’) has bright pink, edible berries.
- ‘Profusion’ Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’) has deep purple berries that are edible, though don’t eat too many all at once.
6. Decoys and Scare Tactics
Everyone has seen those decoys like owls or scarecrows, and many of us have tried scare tactics like hanging CDs, but do they work to protect berries from birds? Scarecrows have long been associated with keeping birds out of crops, so they must have some value, right?
We know a decoy works better if it looks like a predator. One study in Oregon found that a false owl was more effective than a benign object like a box. So the type of decoy is essential.
But even when you use a decoy in the shape of a predator, birds become acclimated to it in just a few days. Studies have even found that even decoys that have moving parts aren’t enough to scare birds away long-term.
You can try other methods of mimicking nature, like placing lengths of black hose in the garden to look like snakes.
What about mirrors and other reflective surfaces like aluminum foil? These weren’t found to be effective over the long term, either, in a study by the University of Nebraska. Something like a shiny pinwheel near your berry plant can deter some birds because it moves and puts off a shiny reflection.
Switching up the location of the decoys will help. Every few days, move the decoys or reflective items.
Audio tools like wind chimes can also help temporarily, but as with decoys, birds tend to acclimate to them. Wind chimes can be placed around your garden as both an audio and visual deterrent.
There are lots of memes on social media claiming that painted rocks to look like berries can confuse and drive birds away. The theory is that the birds will try pecking the rock and learn that it’s hard and unpleasant.
Allegedly, after this experience, they won’t want to return to your garden. As with decoys, this doesn’t work in the long term. Birds quickly learn that some berries are edible, even if a few aren’t.
So, have fun painting berries if you enjoy it, but don’t expect it to protect your plants.