Controlling Birds on Fruit Crops

Birds may cause problems for fruit producers. On many farms or orchards, bird damage is minimal and growers can choose to ignore the problem or take the loss into account as a cost of management. For other growers, problems from bird damage can be substantial, resulting in large portions of the fruit crop being consumed or damaged.

This fact sheet describes the primary species of birds that cause damage to fruit, patterns of damage, and control methods available to growers.





General Biology


The types of bird damage caused, amount of damage, effective control methods and legal protection vary among species of birds. Listed below are the most common species causing damage to fruit, along with the type of damage it causes.



American Crow

The American crow is a problem on apples. It leaves deep triangular peck holes in the apples, often destroying the fruit or making it susceptible to insect damage.




American Robin

It is the species most reported to consume small fruits and cherries. Robins eat cherries, grapes, blueberries, and other small fruit, often causing a great deal of bird damage.




European Starling

These birds can cause extensive damage to fruit because they often descend on orchards in huge flocks. Starlings eat small fruit, such as grapes, whole and slash larger fruit like cherries. They peck holes in apples, consume the insides, and leave the apples hollowed out.


Common Grackle

Grackles consume small fruit like blueberries whole. When eating larger fruit like cherries or apples, they often slash the fruit, leaving lots of damage.


House Finch

House finches can cause extensive damage to fruit. When consuming blueberries, the birds start at the top of the bush and peck berries in rapid succession. Many berries are left damaged. House finches peck grapes open and feed on the juice and pulp within. On apples, they leave small irregular nicks that often leave the fruit susceptible to insect damage or disease.


House Sparrow

House sparrows damage grapes, cherries and other small fruits, generally by pecking holes in them.


Others

Other species may cause problems, depending on the time of the season and the habitat surrounding the orchard or farm. Species in this group include the cedar waxwing, gray catbird, northern mockingbird, and Baltimore oriole.


Damage Identification

Damage to fruit does not occur randomly. By being familiar with patterns of damage, you may be able to reduce damage or lower the cost of control by concentrating control methods in particular areas and at times of the season when bird damage is most severe.


Location and Size of Orchard or Vineyard

Although all farms and orchards are susceptible to bird damage, it may be greatest on farms near to town environments where birds such as robins and starlings are abundant. Damage generally is higher in orchards isolated from other orchards than it is in orchards next to each other. In large orchard acreages, so much fruit is available that the percentage of bird damage at any one site is low. You still get the same amount of damage and the fact that it is a smaller percentage is of no comfort to the farmer with the larger orchards.


Time of Fruit Maturation

The time when the fruit matures appears to influence the amount of bird damage. For apples, bird damage is highest on early-maturing cultivars. Late cultivars experiencing damage are those which turn red early in the season. These patterns suggest that birds are responding to the color change in apples. Bird damage to cherries and grapes is greatest on early-ripening cultivars. Fruit that ripens early may be damaged more often because it matures when other fruits are not as palatable.


Legal Status and Permit Process

All birds are protected by state and/or federal law except pigeons, house sparrows, and European starlings. It is illegal to kill any other species of bird without a special permit. It also is illegal to indirectly cause the death of a protected species. For example, if you put out a toxic chemical to kill starlings and a protected bird is killed in the process, you are legally responsible. Furthermore, it is illegal to disturb a bird that has young or eggs in the nest. You might be better off finding a product that is effective at keeping birds away from your crop such as Fly Away Birdies found at FlyAwayBirdies.com.


Bird Damage Control

Control methods are described below. The type of control method to choose will depend on many factors. Use your knowledge of damage patterns and species behavior to decide when and where to use control methods and which types to use.


Netting

For small fruits and isolated trees, very expensive netting can reduce bird damage. In most cases, netting is placed over the plants or bushes, but for some fruits, such as the highbush blueberry, a framework is built and the netting is suspended over the frame. Among netting’s major disadvantages are that it has a high initial cost, is time-consuming to apply, is inconvenient to work around and is only partially effective. Although netting is expensive, it can be reused for a number of years if removed very carefully and stored over winter. If you are deciding whether to use netting, you need to consider the costs of netting and installation relative to losses from bird damage. And it is subject to UV degradation. So the longer it is out in the sun the less time it will hold together.


Scare Tactics and Noise Devices

Many growers use visual scare devices and noisemakers to frighten birds away from fruit crops. Visual scare devices include streamers, spinners, aluminum pie tins, plastic owl and snake models, and scare-eyes (large balloons with eyes painted on them). Such devices are most effective when used in conjunction with sound as the birds will quickly become used to them and use them for a convenient perch. Visual scare devices should be changed regularly so birds do not learn they are harmless.

Noise devices also are available. Cannons, exploders, sirens, and other noisemakers work best when the sound is presented at irregular intervals and the sound source is moved frequently if not the birds will get used to them. Taped distress calls are more effective, but the calls are usually species-specific, making it necessary to obtain a tape of distress calls of the specific birds causing the damage. A problem with both visual and scare tactics is that birds become accustomed to them quickly. One of the problems you have with loud noise makers is that the city ordinances can require that you do not shoot them off after 4 PM in afternoon.


So that leaves us with The Line That Hums

Fly Away Birdies is a new product on the market that not only makes a pleasant humming sound but the sound constantly varies with the speed of the wind. The 50 or so test farms say they have 100% eliminated bird damage. It only cost $160 an acre. It is also easy to install. It is a one-time use product so at the end of the season you take it down and throw it away or recycle it. It's made out of a UV stabilized Mylar. It has been under testing for three years to get the right configuration for the material. But it is now ready for the 2017/2018 season. 

The Fly Away Birdies humming line is a humane and easy to use bird repellent. It emits an ever varying sound and vibration that birds won't go near. Just install Fly Away Birdies between upright stakes. It will emit humming sounds when you have a slight gentle breeze. And this will get increasingly louder as the wind picks up. Fly Away Birdies humming line is harmless to crops, birds and animals. Install at fruit-set and remove from the field after harvest. Install humming line between, in row uprights, 15' to 30' apart.