Help—or Trouble—on the Wing

Most birds gobble up so many destructive insects during the growing season that they’re worth their weight in hundred-dollar bills. And besides eating up the bugs that munch on your veggies, they’ll polish off the ones that like to bother you and your four-footed family members. On the other hand, some birds can make real nuisances of themselves, especially at spring planting time.

So how do you tell the varmints from the volunteers? It’s simple: Just take a close look. If a bird has spindly legs and a short, thick, cone-shaped beak, it’s a seed eater — and you want it to steer clear of your veggie patch, at least until your plants are well past the seedling stage. But if you see a bird with either a thin and pointy or short, wide, and gaping type of beak, you’ve found a friend.

A bird with a thin and pointy beak eats insects, and plenty of them. It’ll poke that beak into all those tiny places where bugs hide, and gobble them up from the ground, too. Wrens, warblers, kingbirds, phoebes, and all kinds of flycatchers fit this bill.

On the other hand, a bird with a short, wide, and gaping beak grabs food on the fly. Swifts, swallows, nighthawks, purple martins, and whippoorwills all snatch pesky pests as they’re streaking through the air.

When birds are helping themselves to your seeds or vegetables, the only guaranteed way to protect your crops is to cover the plants with nets or floating row covers. Simply surrounding your garden with things that flash or whip around in the wind will also keep down some of the damage. Just remember to use a combination of objects, not just one, and change them every so often so the birds don’t get used to thinking of them as part of the scenery. Any of these items will do the trick:

  • Aluminum pie tins
  • Helium-filled Mylar™ balloons
  • Pinwheels
  • Small mirrors
  • Strips of Mylar
  • Whirligigs
  • Windsocks