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blackbird nuisance

 
zinneken ikke
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It pains me to have to say, because I like the intelligent and resourceful critters, we have a common blackbird problem.

We have a fruit, grain, vegetable rich garden. Plenty of a variety of snails in the grass. Plenty of worms and bugs to feed them year round. However much food there is, it is the fruit they are after. We never put bird feed out by the way.

When it comes to fruit, they know their way through the smallest holes in a net over fruitbushes/trees. The slightest hole, and they will do what they do best: pick once in a fruit and discard it (rotting, wasps, etc.) and do that with all the fruit, spoiling the whole harvest.

If they would pick a couple apples, cherries, plums, etc. and eat them whole we wouldn't mind, but it is their habit of picking once in a fruit and then discarding it, and doing it on all the fruit that is turning them into a pest problem. And they do it together. We saw 3 of them once going after a net like crazy until they found a way in.

They also have the nasty habit of defending their territory against ALL other birds. We've seen them attack and chase away a variety of birds such as different types of sparrows, robins, ... even swallows! And magpies stay at bay (we used to have 3 couples in the garden, they've moved elsewhere). The only birds who do not mind their attacks is a herd (over 20) of big fat pigeons who only feast on the lawn and its insects.

5 couples of them blackbirds reside permanently in the garden. We took in a cat who looks but does not bother with them. We have a hunting dog we trained to chase birds along the beach, and catches a few from time to time, who also catches wild rabbits and pigeons. But the command to fetch blackbirds the dog just looks at them, then us uninterested doing nothing about them.

We're worried capturing them whichever way possible, and killing, will only create a void for other blackbirds in the area to fill the void. A local farmer once suggested we catch one and then string it to a pole, alive. As cruel as it is, we did try that, it worked for a few days on the fruit bushes directly under the pole and up to about 2-3 meter. No effect elsewhere in the garden.

How do we deal with them in a humane way, allowing for more bird diversity and allowing for more undamaged fruit (or at least less fruit damaged by blackbirds)?
 
Chadwick Holmes
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Location: Volant, PA
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Try to remember that their tendency to ruin a fruit and discard does not mean that the fruit does not get used, they are making that food available to more of the food web by doing so......not sure that helps, but the whole fruit does get used.

Please do not resort to cruel treatment, it is the easiest approach but not nessecity. Can you put out feeders that will serve them better than your crops just until the crops are harvested? You can get noise makers that will make your life as poor as theirs, but it will scare them off, many are motion activated.

I am sure there will be more ideas coming from permies!
 
Casie Becker
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Do mulberries do well in your area? It's the one I've seen most often mentioned when people are suggestion decoy crops to keep birds of the other fruit trees. It's on my long term plans for the edge of our property. I'm planning to put it far away from most of my gardens and everyone's buildings.
 
Shawn Harper
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Location: Portlandia, Oregon
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Go to your local humane society. Ask to see the cats that are about to be put down. Buy the most scraggily cat there. Your goal should be one that isn't people dependent, but rather a good mouser. Feed him/her every night in your garden. Your garden is now his/her hunting ground. You save cat, cat saves garden.
 
Roger Fergus
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Location: NW WA
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Paul (Back to Eden) shot one and strung it up, they all left shortly.
 
zinneken ikke
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Thanks for all the suggestions.

I appreciate damaged fruit serves other purposes then our food, but they are wasters of our food. We're not growing fruit for compost and attracting wasps so to speak ... We'd like some fruit as well. It's not like leaving 1/3 to the birds, it's more like leave 1/10 for us humans only because were were quick enough to pick, otherwise there would be none for us. Permaculture doesn't mean feed one bird species, we'd like to eat some as well, and see a diversity of birds.

It is the fruit that attracts them, and makes them mad.

Family has a property closeby, with much more land and with no fruit trees. A kind of permaculture design without fruit. They are more into trees, animals, veggies, mushrooms. There are plenty of bird species, not one blackbird have I ever seen there on visits.

If the blackbirds in our garden would also go after the snails, and leave the other birds a flourishing place in the garden, we'd consider them part of the permaculture environment, forget all the fruit they damage and only focus on the veggies. They have however created a "monoculture" bird environment, and snails are flourishing. One could argue it's because we need to make more food available to them, but, the garden has its boundaries, and said snails are supposedly part of their diet.

10 years ago there was 1 couple of blackbirds, and plenty of other birds. There were some snails, but not the amount there are today - today we've resorted to parasitic nematodes since no wildlife manages the snails. The garden was not a permaculture design, there was plenty of wilderness, only a few apple trees who all delivered their fruit at the same time. There was the occasional bird damaged apple, but 95% did not go to birds. Quite a bit of surplus fell on the ground and/or was left on the tree for the winter.

In came the fruit bushes and trees, who produce fruit at various times, so there is varying fruit throughout the season. Today there are 5 couples of blackbirds, all with their nest and young to feed. I think that's where the imbalance comes from: they can raise them with plenty of food during the season of plenty as long as they chase all the others away. They are more clever I guess, or maybe they are more like us humans, chase the others so we have more?

Solutions:

You're right, listening to movement triggered noise blasts will only aggress us, and them blackbirds I am sure will be comfortable with the noise in no time.

We never tried mulburry, need to look into that though I suspect it would only work part of the season and allow for more blackbird families to feed themselves and thrive?

How does one transform a cat into a hunter of blackbirds? They are clever at surviving. I wouldn't want a hunter cat to chase the other birds I want to lure back into the garden because they are more easy and end up leaving the blackbirds alone, like the one we have now.

The hanging of a live version we tried. Very unfriendly way, and only effective in a narrow stretch (2-3 meter) around the place where the live bird is strung to a pole.

I've been tinkering about installing bird nests with an entry diameter too small for blackbirds to enter. I'm thinking, if other bird species have an easy and safe nest which blackbirds do not get access to, they may be more willing to put up a fight with blackbirds for territory? Which diameter is just small enough for blackbirds to not be able to take up residence? Anyone got experience?

We'd like to find a permaculture way to reduce the blackbirds, and reestablish other bird species. If the only way is to catch and dispose of them until the next lot comes along and fights for the bountyful garden territory, we'll do, but there must be more permaculture ways to reduce the blackbird's overweight and let other birds come back and a have bit more fruit for us?
 
Rick English
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Location: Central Pennsylvania, USA
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I second the mulberry idea. Mulberries are preferred over most everything else by most critters. As a kid, I once saw a groundhog climb a tree to eat mulberries. They aren't bad for humans either, and they often produce berries for most of the summer into the fall. They also grow pretty fast, but that solution is still years away.

Nets would have been another recommendation of mine, but sounds like that isn't working for you. Cats are another option, but depending on the cat, that might cause a new problem if they prefer something else to blackbirds. Seems most cats like to do the opposite of what you would want them to do, not to mention cat poop in your gardens is not a fun find.

You could also try to encourage natural predators like hawks and falcons, but then you may have less of the songbirds you desire. Maybe you could take up falconry or find somebody local who could be hired to come introduce their falcon to your blackbirds?

You could wait for natural predators to move in, but possibly your location just isn't friendly to them. I used to live in a place with a population of coopers hawks, but they preferred the smaller songbirds to the big tough blackbirds or grackles.

Tough pickle. I think you might have to play the role of the predator in this case, or your problem is likely to become worse. Blackbirds are a very successful and smart bird. To them, you have created an all-you-can eat buffet with no predators. Since they are well-fed and safe, their populations will continue to grow, making the problem worse for you.

My last idea would be that maybe you can disrupt their nesting? Maybe rubber snakes in the trees where they nest, and move them often to discourage them from nesting in your space? That seems like more work than more drastic means to reduce their populations.
 
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