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Gardeners versus birds.

Birds inspire mixed emotions in gardeners. Chubby sparrows twittering in the trees are cheery harbingers of spring--until they start snatching your flower and vegetable seedlings. Robins and jays earn some fans with their cocky personalities, but admirers melt away when the birds attack garden fruits and berries.

Is there any sure way to protect your garden bountry without harming avian invaders? We asked our readers to tell us which methods have proved effective for them and which flopped. More than 200 responded.

Plastic netting. Clear winner in the anti-bird sweepstakes is the plastic bird netting sold at nurseries and garden supply centers, though it too had its critics:

"I hope someone can find a way to net a tree, other than with a helicopter or crane, that does not produce an irate husband. And don't suggest a new husband--this one is fine except when you say bird net," wrote one gardener.

Alas, no one reported a foolproof way to get nets effortlessly over vulnerable trees such as cherries and figs, but one gardener devised a method that can reduce the frustration (see drawings at right). For a 10- to 12-foot tree, use a 13- by 25-foot net. For a 20-foot tree, you'll need two 13-by 45-foot nets. cost is $20 to $25 per net.

To simplify using the net over planting beds, many gardeners built support frames such as the PVC arches pictured above. Also popular were frames made of 1-by-2 redwood with netting stapled on. These were usually 1 to 2 feet high, about 6 feet long, and as wide as the garden rows; they can be easily lifted off for weeding and harvesting. (Shown is a flat frame with chicken wire.)

Stockings, bags, baskets. Clusters of grapes can be covered with nylon stockings, paper lunch bags, or pockets made with bird netting or tulle cloth secured at the top of the stems. Cover grapes before they start to turn color. Strawberry baskets are perfect for protecting vulnerable seedling such as Iceland poppies and ranunculus.

What about scarecrows? The traditional scarecrow went down to resounding defeat. Other devices that resemble bird enemies received more favorable reviews. Most popular was a 6-foot-long inflatable snake (shown above). Fake owls and catlike creatures were close runners-up. These didn't fool all of the birds all of the time, but they helped reduce losses of fruits and seedlings by 30 to 50 percent, sometimes more. Blow-up snakes and owls are available from many mail-order nurseries for about $7 to $12 each.

Readers reported success with rubber snakes from toy shops, as well as home-made versions of owls, hawks, and cats. Silhouettes can be cut from sturdy construction paper and features painted on both sides. One gardener fooled birds with pictures of cats snipped from cat-food boxes. Kites with owl or hawk decorations hung fro tall poles are another option. Even 5- by 9-inch pieces of fake fur repelled birds when suspended from fruit trees or placed next to seedlings.

To succeed with a phony predator, you must move the creature every day or two; otherwise the birds may take a peck to see if it's alive. It's a good idea to attach one cardboard or plastic creature to a long pole so it can be suspended above the tree. Suspend another one on lower branches to discourage birds from hopping from the ground into the tree.

What about fluttery scraps of cloth or metal can lids hung from strings? Most gardeners said these failed, except in the desert, where shiny aluminum pie plates and trays or pieces of foil worked if enough were used to decorate the entire tree or planting area.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Feb 1, 1984
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