Pest Side Story 2! Watch The Birdie!

Watch the birdie. A phrase popular in days of yore with seedy seaside portrait photographers, who used it in an attempt to keep children looking in the direction of the camera. Apparently, they would use animated props of birds that could be made to squawk or warble to keep the infant’s attention. How inventive and ever so slightly strange. Why birdies? Why not, I don’t know, a monkey or a meerkat? These days, of course, it’s usually the child who has the camera/mobile phone with built-in camera and they are usually to be found taking numerous selfies before they lose interest and go back to Call Of Duty or some equally addictive video game franchise

Anyway. My birdies are real. Oh yes. Real and hungry and… grrr… pests. Some time ago my colleague Holly wrote a neat little piece on how and what to feed birds. Well worry not Holly, they are doing very well eating my newly sown seeds.

What to do? I don’t want to start shooting the little b…blighters but they are becoming a real nuisance. I was out there at the weekend and it was definitely like a scene from Hitchcock’s famous movie. I was busy sowing hardy annuals and some herbs, just right for this time of year in one of my raised beds, when one bird flew down and settled coyly in a postcard style pose on my garden fork handle, head cocked on one side… cute like, just across the plot from where I was. So I looked at him for a minute,  then I turned away and sowed a couple more handfuls and when I turned back, there were three of them…looking at me with evil intent. Then I looked up and they were in a row on top of my shed and the telephone wires across the road were chock full of ’em. Just watching, tweeting like Stephen Fry on a busy day and fluttering their wings.

They're just waiting for you to turn your back!
They’re just waiting for you to turn your back!

Unlike Tippi Hedren I did not run screaming from the garden, seagulls tugging at my blonde locks and dash deftly into a phone box (try finding one of those these days) but I did shiver slightly and pop indoors for a soothing G&T and watched in abject horror (is there any other sort?) as the little birdie bandits swooped like bargain hunters on the first day of a sale into my garden and helped themselves to my newly-sown-seed buffet.

That was when I decided. It’s ‘watch-out’ time for Mr Birdie. There are lots of ways to deter and freak out birds without resorting to violence.

You could make a scarecrow. They are easy to make. I tried one made from a couple of bamboo poles tied in a rough cross, a pair of my old ski-ing gloves, a woolly hat that has seen better days and some old clothes. Just don’t make my mistake and grab clothes you think are old from your wife’s wardrobe. When Lady Marmalade saw my scarecrow from the kitchen window, dressed in what turned out to be her best Boden frock, (who knew 60s prints were back in?) you could hear her shriek of dismay as far as Middlesborough. That cost me I can tell you. And the birds didn’t seem to care  It seems my birds are paid up scarecrow spotters and I reckon it has to be a very convincing or scary scarecrow to work. Maybe a cardboard cut-out of a really scary figure like Dracula, Hanibal Lector or Boris Johnson might do it.

You could try CDs. And watch out, it’s tempting to use them like frisbees or karate style throwing stars but goodness those birds are are good at dodging. But the way to do it is to hang CDs, or bottle tops (in reality last seen in Blue Peter in the 1970s) or even silver foil from strings on poles or from branches as, allegedly, birds don’t like their reflections… I’d love to know how they found that out. My wife is much the same. My main problem with this method was that I don’t have enough CDs that I am happy to give up. I still like listening to them! I did hang a few Phil Collins and Chris De Burgh ones up but I hated them so much I ended up taking pot shots at them with my air gun.

"Who are you calling fake?"
“Who are you calling fake?”

Then there are those fake birds of prey you can buy owls, hawks and the like, but I am not convinced.

I’ve heard stories of birds actually perching on them. I think we may have underestimated bird’s intelligence. I mean, aren’t they distantly related to velociraptors?

I have found the only solution that really works for me is a good, well structured and placed bird netting cagey type thing. I used bamboo poles, forced well into the ground against the wind, draped the large piece of netting across them and then tacked the netting with a couple of tent pegs on each side easy to lift off to get at my rows but good to stop the netting lifting.

This does work. The birds can’t get in but you can. Just make sure you give the seedlings enough space to grow.

Of course, it won’t stop slugs… but that’s another pest side story. So keep those birds at arm’s length and… Enjoy your garden.   Drew Hardy

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