Issue: March 16, 2002

Birds eating fruit tree flowers

Question:

Last year the birds ate every blossom on our pear tree. The blossoms are ready to burst into bloom. What can I do to save them this year? David G.

Answer:

It is frustrating when birds damage the fruit on our trees, but especially frustrating when they eat the flowers long before they become fruit. However, the same tactics used to protect fruit may be employed to protect the flowers. The degree of success is often variable - sometimes good, sometimes a failure. One of the most common techniques for protecting fruit (and flowers) is to use netting to keep the birds away. Of course, the birds will reach through the netting and eat some flowers, but flowers further in the tree should be protected. When using netting, it is important to extend the netting to the ground and anchor it well or tie it loosely around the trunk. If there are gaps, the birds will often get in and once trapped inside, they will do even greater damage. Another, sometimes successful, strategy is the use of "fright." Many types of birds are easily startled and avoid places and conditions which are startling. That is the reason for the old "pie pan" technique. Aluminum pie pans tied to branches in the tree will twist and swing in the breeze. As they move, they will flash light in different directions. Flashing light will often discourage birds from approaching. At night this is less effective, but most birds are less active at night. The sound made by aluminum pie pans as they swing around and bump into branches is also a deterrent to birds. Unfortunately, it may be a deterrent to your peaceful sleep at night. If so, a similar technique involves wrapping the tree with monofilament fishing line in the same manner that you would wrap strands of garland around a Christmas tree. The line should be strung in bands about a foot apart. As a bird flies toward a tree, it enters a zone in which the monofilament line has reflected or refracted light, then passing through that zone the light disappears. To the birds it seems like there has been a flash of light in the tree. Many birds will turn away at that time. Another variation is to hang one-to-two-inch strips of aluminum foil from the branches. The foil will not make as much noise as the pie pans but will spin and swing in the wind, creating flashes of light. The strips of foil are easier for you to see and remove at a later date than the fishing line. Please remember that the birds are generally beneficial, just a nuisance when competing with us for fruit (in the flower or fruit stage). It is illegal to harm many song birds which may be the culprits so use discouragement techniques, don't harm the birds. You might also try creating a diversion by putting water and birdseed in another part of the landscape to attract the birds away from the pear tree. Of course, that may just invite even more birds into the vicinity of the pear tree and can work against you. Try it, however; it may be enough to reduce the damage to a tolerable level.

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For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page: desertblooms@nmsu.edu.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.