Watch Your Head, and Your Veggies.

Today I spent my morning in client gardens spanning from West Santa Rosa through Sebastopol, CA. Good news, it seems we finally have the rampant aphid and caterpillar populations in check, but the birds. Those damn birds. This warmer than average fall, it seems that they are not blending with the ecosystem, but rather disrupting it. The number one pest attacking vegetable gardens across Marin and Sonoma Counties in the past few weeks have been birds.

Truth be told, I typically skip the aviary at the zoo, but birds and I have an understanding. They help the ecosystem in their own way, and I try not to negatively impact their way of life.

“Birds are important because they keep systems in balance: they pollinate plants, disperse seeds, scavenge carcasses and recycle nutrients back into the earth.” — Melanie DriscollDirector of bird conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Flyway

Perhaps you too have noticed plants eaten down to the ground, or leaves that are chewed to shreds. Below is a photo of typical bird damage in vegetable gardens.

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It is very easy to be fooled into believing damage to your garden was from creatures other than birds. What was that? You think that you could have a rodent problem? Show me the poop (technical term=droppings). Rodents do not discriminate between where they eat and dispose, so your garden will be littered with droppings if they are the culprit. Could it be deer? I see you have 65% of your vegetables still standing. Deer show no mercy while enjoying your garden as a buffet. Make sure you thoroughly inspect the damage before assigning ultimate blame.

There are a few key points and tricks to keep in mind when fighting birds in the garden. If birds seem happy with certain foods, offering more of that foodwill attract more birds to the backyard. Preventing birds is achievable with a few supplies, but it will add eyesores to your garden. Bird netting, reflective tape, and pin wheels are three easy ways to discourage our feathery friends. But sometimes they’ll just ignore your bright decorations and munch away.

Avalow is based in Sonoma County, near some of the most prized vineyards in California. Birds are an important part of the vineyard ecosystem but are also one of the worst pests grape growers deal with around harvest time, so we veggie gardeners are not alone in our ornithological battle. Starlings are the peskiest and are an invasive species from Europe that forms giant cloud-like flocks in Wine Country in the fall. Tactics used by grape growers to fight birds have quite a wide range. The most obvious but also quite cumbersome and tedious is the yearly application of poly netting to protect mature grape clusters from birds. The least obvious and possibly the most ridiculous is the bird cannon, which is a loud “boom” created by a giant loudspeaker that is set to discharge every few minutes. Vineyards protected by such devices are not tranquil places to work! In the end, the most effective protection for vineyard and veggie garden alike is the generous application of reflective Mylar tape, found in almost any hardware store in Wine Country.

I’d like to know, why are there so many birds this season? Are there really more than normal, or are they just hungrier than normal? I’ve raised these questions with a few experts and hope that the answer will trigger a solution that is a win-win for the birds as well as the survival of the vegetable garden. For now, I will head back into gardens tomorrow and be grateful that the recent reduction in caterpillars may be a direct result of the birds.

Amanda DunkerAvalow