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Bird Bandits: How to keep birds off fruit trees

Published: May 2, 2014

Do you want birds in your orchard? Some species can be very damaging to fruit and berry crops, and you will want to keep those birds off your fruit trees. But other bird species can be beneficial. These are the birds that eat insects and help keep insect pest populations under control.

In this article we will review which birds you might want in your orchard. And we'll talk about the bird bandits that you will want to keep far away from your fruit trees and other crops.

Bird on Bird nesting box. Keep birds off fruit trees.
A birdhouse designed to attract beneficial birds to protect fruit trees from insect pests. (Photo credit: Mary Nelson)

beneficial birds in your orchard

We at Orchard People encourage orchardists to install birdhouses in their orchards as a way of attracting bug-eating bluebirds or tree swallows. Each day, these birds will chow down on a multitude of flying pests that can ruin the fruit on your growing trees.

For instance, during the growing season, Eastern bluebirds eat huge quantities of insects including snails, grubs, caterpillars, insect larvae, moths and mosquitos. Many of these insects are damaging to fruit trees so Eastern bluebirds help control fruit tree pest populations. Tree swallows have a similar diet and they help keep pest populations in check. (You can learn how to attract beneficial birds to your garden in this post.)

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bandit birds: those you want to keep away from your fruit trees and berry plantings

And yet, anyone who grows fruit knows that birds can also be a nuisance in an orchard, as they peck away at the fruit growing on your trees and berry plantings. Some common bird bandits include red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings, American robins, common grackles, house finches and European starlings.

Red Winged Blackbird. Keep birds off fruit trees.
Red winged blackbirds have a varied diet, but they do enjoy eating berries and fruit during the growing season. Photo credit: Unsplash.

how to keep birds off of your fruit trees or berry crops?

Over the years, researchers have developed various ways to keep birds away from our crops as part of Integrated Pest Management. You can learn all about this science and how to apply it in our online course, Integrated Pest Management for Fruit Trees.

Exclusion netting is one tool used to protect fruit trees from bird and insect damage. Watch this video to see City Fruit Seattle volunteers put netting on a fruit tree. Netting should always be put on after petal fall. Video credit: City Fruit Seattle

But here are some approaches that commercial and other growers use:

  • Planting fruit crops away from common nesting and perch sites like woods and hedgerows.
  • Using exclusion netting. After pollination, trees or shrubs are covered with exclusion netting to prevent insects and birds from accessing the growing and ripening fruit. You can also use garden netting bags to cover growing fruit clusters.
  • Installing battery powered, electrical or solar powered auditory scare devices that broadcast bird distress calls or other noises that drive birds away. One option is Birdbusters' Screech Owl which looks like an owl and makes the sounds of birds in distress.
  • Using visual deterrents to scare birds away. An inexpensive and easy option is reflective scare tape that you tie on tree branches or attach to posts. The tape flutters in the wind and repels birds by reflecting light.
  • For commercial growers, dancing scarecrows have also become popular. These are the blow up signs that car dealerships use but study shows they do keep damaging birds off fruit trees and vineyards.
  • Attracting natural predators that prey on birds to the site. Growers may install owl nesting boxes so that the owls prey on the unwanted birds. Some orchards hire companies that bring trained raptors with them to tackle your bird problem and scare bird bandits away.
  • If none of these methods work for you, you can always distract the bird bandits by installing a squirrel-proof bird feeder somewhere far away from your fruit planting. Let the birds fill up on seeds, grains and nuts so that they leave your fruit trees and berry plants alone!
Dancing scarecrow keep birds off fruit trees
Some commercial growers use inflatable scarecrows to help prevent birds from damaging their crops. Photo credit: OrchardPeople.com.

One little footnote: Birds and wildlife are smarter than many of us give them credit for. So some of these methods might work for a few weeks, but when the birds figure out what's going on, they may return to plunder your growing fruit.

For lots more information, Cornell University has published a great article on bird management strategies that show the extent of the damage birds can cause and how to prevent it.

Please note: This page includes affiliate links which means Orchard People may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase. By buying through us, you are supporting our mission to produce free fruit tree care resources including our blogyoutube videos and podcast.


Susan Poizner

Director, OrchardPeople.com Fruit Tree Care Education Online
Susan Poizner is an urban orchardist in Toronto, Canada and the author of Grow Fruit Trees Fast, a fruit tree care guide designed for new growers who want to grow organic fruit trees successfully - and quickly! She is also the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards. Susan trains new growers worldwide through her award-winning fruit tree care training program at Orchardpeople.com and she teaches fruit production in person at Niagara College in Ontario. Susan is also the host of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast and an ISA Certified Arborist.
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