Thursday, May 19, 2011

For The Birds

I have a new gardening gripe to get off my chest. And it isn’t the gripe that has to do with the May 15 frost deadline having past, but it still being too cold to plant. I know a useless gripe when I see one.

No, I would file my latest gardening complaint under the heading of “Be Careful What you Wish For.” Actually, “Be Careful How You Decorate Your House” might be better.

You see, I have this thing about birds. Real ones, yes, but also decorative ones. My house, in fact, is  populated by a flock of decorative birds.

There’s this one:



And this one:




These, too:




And then there’s those other ones:



And the one in the cage:



Did I forget to mention the ones on the bedroom wall?



I also own a bird identification guide, a book with digital recordings of bird calls, and an iPhone app that plays birdsong for relaxing soaks in the tub. It’s fair to say that, before this spring, my romance with birds was in full swing.

Then, it happened. As I waited for my backyard crabapple to dazzle me with its blooms, the house finches devoured the buds before they opened. (My local nursery-owner tells me they were after the nectar). Then, as if part of a coordinated avian attack, the quails started helping themselves to my newly planted lettuce and spinach. (Apparently, says the nursery owner, they need greens in their diet). Suddenly, I’m having a hard time loving my feathered friends. My next task: how to unfriend the birds.

Remember Beatrix Potter’s tale of Peter Rabbit? For the first time, I feel much less kinship with the radish-eating bunny, and much more with the grumpy, rake-wielding Mr. McGregor. But we don’t wield rakes at my house. It’s not good for your back. And so far, we don’t cover the raised beds with nets or plastic, because that’s just not attractive. I look at the vegetable garden through the bedroom window, so I require it to be as pretty as it is productive.

So, we make bird scarers.

I got the idea from my favorite book about gardening with children: How Does Your Garden Grow? by Clare Matthews.  Here’s a picture of a finished bird scarer from her book, made from wooden dowels, old CDs and paint:



Charming and whimsical, right? Supposedly, the birds don’t think so. The CDs twirl in the wind and throw off flashes of light that birds can do without. So we got busy making scarers.

First, we painted our CDs:



Here is the set of eight that Benny and I finished, enough for two bird scarers:



Then I used a hot glue gun to attach the CDs to a small wooden dowel:


(Matthews, who is British, actually recommended that you use PVA glue or silicone sealant. If you know what those are, I would recommend you try them. In the end, the hot glue actually doesn't hold up well to the temperature fluctuations outside. I've since rigged a solution involving fishing line, but if I were you, I'd just get some better glue)

Finally, I cut newspaper rubber bands and used them as strings to attach the CD stick to another, larger dowel. Matthews said to use elastic thread, which I've seen but wouldn't know where to buy. (But in the end the rubberbands weakened and snapped, so I bought some "stretch cord" which I found among beading supplies in the craft store.)

Here is one of the scarers hanging from an iron topiary in the top portion of the veggie bed.



Did they work? Well, I’d love to say they did. And to be fair, they did seem to work, somewhat, some of the time. I’ve seen finches veering wildly away after flying too close to the spinning discs. But the quail, well….





Yes, that's a picture of a quail scarfing down romaine lettuce with our super-duper scarer hovering at the top of the photo. And that's his lady companion down in the soil on the left having a go at the spinach. I had to run out and chase them away after all. (No rake).

So our greens, which have been in the ground for over a month now, have so far not made it on to our plates. They've all gone to the birds.  Needless to say, I need a new strategy for those darn quail.  I was starting to think a decorative metal bird to the head would do the trick. Then I remembered that, before this spring, I actually loved the quail. They’re by far the cutest, fattest, most adorable birds on the block. They act more like humans than any other bird I’ve seen. They prefer to walk rather than fly, and they run around the neighborhood in these giant family groups with children in tow. The adults are rarely seen without the company of their significant other. I don’t want to hurt the quail, I just don’t want them mistaking my veggie patch for a salad bar.

So now, I’m going to deploy a Super-Duper-Ooper-Schmooper Scary Scarer. 

Meet my new decoy hawk:

Bird-B-Gone Hawk Bird and Rodent Deterrent - 17in.H, Model# MMRTH1

It set me back $15 and should be arriving in the mail within two days (All Hail to Amazon Prime).  I was tempted to purchase a motion-activated decoy owl that rotates it’s head and hoots, but the hawk actually got better reviews. Hawks are also more numerous in our area, and unlike owls, they hunt during the day, which is when the quail come a callin'.

Now, am I going to love seeing a plastic hawk out my bedroom window? I’ll have to get back to you on that one. If this doesn't work, I'll have one last tactic to try:  Buy my greens at the grocery store.

Anyone else have bird problems that they solved in an aesthetically pleasing way?

13 comments:

  1. Oh how I wished your CD's worked. They look so lovely. I use a fake snake that does the trick, never seen a bird in my garden or even near it. But sorry not aesthetically pleasing, maybe more subtle then the hawk though?

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  2. Aesthetically pleasing bird-away solution: kitty. Of course, this poses another problem of kitty, erm, "digging" in the garden. My solution is to strew citrus peels and bits throughout (it really works). Slugs are more of an issue for me than birds.

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  3. This is so funny. We tried to make a scarecrow with a rotating head to get rid of the birds last year (fail). Now the kids are just trained to run out and chase them whenever they see them in the yard. It's sort of become a weird game.

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  4. Desperate Gardener: Oooh, I like the snake idea. In our case, the snake would be hidden by the lip on the raised bed. Makes me want to send my hawk back!

    Becky: You're right. When we had cats we kept them indoors, but my parents cats are always bringing in their kill. Do the orange rinds work for birds as well as slugs? Worth a try, that one!

    Partly Sunny: In the end, there's probably no substitute for living, breathing beings concerning themselves with bird chasing. I'll have to get my kids trained up. They're not pulling enough weight around here anyway....

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  5. sorry I net my veg gardens and actually it is hard to see the netting...it really does not look awful and I get to eat my veggies...will be netting the new grape vine as well once it produces...of course I have rabbits and deer as well so i have to net things.

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  6. Bel, It's nice to know that those old CDs have a second life in the garden -- because I sure do have piles of them! I have used them in the past as deer deterrents, but I confess that I didn't bother to decorate them. Maybe next time, I should hire Benny to make them more attractive! -Jean

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  7. We have a large lawn and some nice flowering trees and bushes. Here, where we live in SE Australia we get some beautiful birds and parrots and they are most welcome. However behind our home we have a couple of small herb or vegetable gardens. Birds have been a problem in the past, just like a group of mischievous children digging up and eating the plants.

    First I tried old DVD or CD disks, these worked for a while. So knowing those owls are a bird’s worse nightmare I printed an owls face onto a CD label and then painted two huge yellow eyes on the owls face finally stuck it to the label side of the CD. Very effective as suspended by a length of fishing line it seems to spin round showing the shiny side of the disk and then next minute this scary owls face. I don't know about the birds but it certainly scares H**L out of me!

    What works even better is a Childs plastic windmill, as we live near the ocean we usually get a sea breeze most day's. I found that to make the windmill a 100% effective bird scarer is to cut the plastic stem of the windmill off at about half way. Then with a bit of thin metal rod slide it in the cut off tube of the windmill then insert the other end of the metal rod into a small hole bored into some part of your home that is exposed to prevalent winds (something like a fence or wooden rail). Not only will the blades of the windmill rotate with the wind but also the head and blades of the windmill will swing from side to side like a living thing.

    Some people years ago would mount a model spitfire or hurricane fighter plane with spinning propeller in their garden to deter birds.

    Cats will scare birds away but if you do not want cats or rabbits in your vegetable garden simply spray a border around it with cloudy ammonia. This will soak into the ground and last for weeks.




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