Keep birds off tomatoes


This kind of top-down eating damage on a tomato is likely the work of a small rodent, probably either a chipmunk or squirrel.

(Submitted photo)

Q: I’ve attached a photo of a tomato in my garden that was nearly half eaten, but I have no idea who’s hungry. The garden is in Carlisle and is fenced in. The plants are staked. We see squirrels and rabbits, along with a variety of birds, but no other wildlife. Whatever is doing it is eating the fruits as they’re ripening. This one was on the ground, but others were eaten on the vine. Do you have any ideas how to prevent these attacks?

A: All sorts of animals love ripe tomatoes almost as much as people, especially squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, raccoons, deer and birds.

Since your damage is occurring up on staked plants and (from the look of the photo) from the top of the fruit, I’m going to guess one of the small climbing rodents, either squirrels or chipmunks.

I suspect they’re climbing up the stakes and having a morning feast.

Birds also can do top-down damage on fruits high on the vine, but they usually do pecking damage – more holes than the half-eaten gouges you’re getting.

Squirrels and chipmunks can also get around fencing – another incriminating clue.

I don’t think it’s a groundhog because 1.) fencing is somewhat more effective against groundhogs, and 2.) groundhogs usually eat low-hanging fruit from the bottom up.

You’ve got a few options.

Try setting out a cage trap baited with peanut butter to see if you don’t catch a squirrel or chipmunk. Place it near the plants in the garden. If you don’t mind killing small rodents, use a mouse or rat snap trap baited with peanut butter.

You could also try using a scent repellent around the plants’ perimeter, such as a granular one with predator urine in it (fox or bobcat).

A third option is netting the plants, or at least wrapping mesh netting around the fruits as soon as they show signs of coloring. This will keep off the birds as well.

If you suspect birds, some people have had surprisingly good luck by placing a fake owl in the garden. At least some birds are petrified of anything that could remotely be an owl. Others hang shiny objects that blow in the wind to scare birds, such as pie pans or old CDs.

Good luck. I think heading off animal damage is the hardest part of growing edibles… more so than bugs, disease, soil issues and the weather.

How to Keep Your Garden Safe From Birds

Birds are truly useful creatures, aren’t they? They eat up mosquitos and bothersome insects, they wake us up each morning with their sweet songs, and they’re fun to watch.

My oldest daughter loves to spend time watching birds and identifying them in her bird book. Or, rather, getting me to identify them in the bird book for her. (She can’t yet read.) I’m happy to oblige because I’ve always been interested in birds myself. Still, though my love for birds is real and their good qualities can’t be overstated, they can also cause problems.

Their songs may make for sweet alarm clocks, but sometimes I don’t want to wake up at 5:30 a.m. (Actually, I never want to wake up at 5:30 a.m.) And while I appreciate their ability to eat mosquitos and wasps, I also prefer that they keep their appetites far away from my garden.

Birds can wreak havoc on a good crop, and it’s important to know that there are ways to prevent the damage they can cause, so let’s talk about how to keep birds out of our garden!

Scare Them

Birds are scared of humans, so theoretically, all you have to do to scare them away is stand in your garden. Of course, you can’t hang out in your garden all day waiting for crows to come peck at your tomatoes. You can, however, make something that looks like a person standing in your garden – a scarecrow. They’re simple to make and a fun project to work on with kids. At its most basic form, you only need a few supplies for a scarecrow:

  • Two large sticks
  • String
  • An old shirt

The most enjoyable part of making a scarecrow is adding your own creativity. Stuff it with straw or old rags, or leave it hanging free. Put a funny hat on it or, if you’re like us, use an old welding helmet for its head. The idea is to create something roughly the size and shape of a human; once you’ve done that, have fun with it!

Another tip for using your scarecrow is to move it around occasionally. Birds might be scared of humans, but they’re clever animals, and if your scarecrow stays still for several days, they will figure out that it’s not actually a person. Try moving your scarecrow to different garden spots every few days. He can spend a day in the peas and then a few days in the cabbage and end up with a nice tour of your garden, and the birds won’t grow fearless of him.

Though the scarecrow is a fun, tried-and-true method of scaring birds way, there are other options. One method is to tie up pie tins around the garden. The brightness and reflection from the sun will startle the birds, as will the clattering sound they make when the wind blows them into each other. Pie tins aren’t the only kitchen objects that will work for this–hanging up any sort of metallic, loud utensils should work.

Finally, consider tricking birds into thinking your garden is home to a snake. My husband always leaves a small stretch of rope or garden hose out in the rows for this purpose. Birds, like many humans (myself included), are generally afraid of snakes. If you’d like to take it a step further, you could put rubber snakes out among your plants. I would recommend moving them around in the same manner as the scarecrow. Also, be sure to inform your family if you put fake snakes in your garden. No need to give anyone a heart attack.

Thwart Them

Scaring birds away will certainly minimize the damage they cause to your garden, but it isn’t a guaranteed method. The only certain way to keep birds away from your crops is to physically protect the plants. Bird netting (like this) works well for many crops, particularly berries. Netting can be draped over a whole blueberry bush, or you can create cages out of it with PVC pipe. I’ve also seen some more creative cages made out of sticks or two-by-fours.

I would warn you to check occasionally to be sure that birds aren’t caught in the netting. You don’t want to harm the birds; you just don’t want them hurting your crops. We have used netting for a few years now and have never had a bird get caught, but it can happen. You’ll probably be out checking your garden every day anyway, so be sure to give the nets a good look.

Distract Them

Birds are just like any other hungry creature in that they’re looking for an easy meal. Can you give them a food source so that they aren’t tempted to get into your garden? Here are some ideas:

  • Leave one or two berry bushes uncovered as a “sacrifice”
  • Plant a few crops near your garden specifically for birds
  • Grow plants that naturally attract birds – just not in your garden
    • Sunflowers
    • Buckwheat
    • Juniper
    • Mulberry
    • Dogwood

It’s not too hard to peacefully coexist with birds. They do so many good things for us, and they hold a special place in the hearts of all of us naturalists. Don’t let your love of our winged friends be tainted by the damage they can cause to your garden – there’s no need to let it happen.

How do you keep birds out of the garden?

Let us know in the comments!


Tomato Plants & Cardinals

Jupiterimages/ Images

Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) and tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) have little in common other than the color of the ripe fruit and the bird’s plumage, yet home gardeners sometimes see them together. The bright red bird birds commonly visit feeders year round. They nest all summer and have to feed not only themselves but also their hungry offspring. Sometimes dinner includes ripe tomatoes.


An attractive bird that often frequents feeders, the bright red male cardinal and his duller brown female partner don’t migrate. You can often see them decorating snow covered trees in the middle of winter. These medium-sized birds average 8 to 9 inches in length. A monogamous bird, the cardinal mates for life. The female lays three eggs on average per brood, and she usually has two broods a year but sometimes a third if the weather is mild. Although both birds hunt and feed the young, the male does the majority of the hunting while the female builds the nests and incubates the eggs, which hatch in two weeks. The baby birds fledge around 10 days although the parents often feed them for a few more days.


Commercial tomato breeders select plants for properties that allow farmers to efficiently harvest, store and ship them. In developing easily shipped tomatoes, however, breeders lost some of the original flavor and texture of tomatoes that made them so popular. Home gardeners can grow tomato varieties that produce sweeter, riper, fuller-flavored fruits because they don’t have to undergo the rigors of transportation. Every part of the tomato, other than the fruits, is poisonous to people. Tomatoes come in two types: determinant, where the fruit ripens all at once, and indeterminate, which produce fruit throughout the season.

Cardinal Attractor

Tomatoes, especially ripe ones, attract cardinals for several reasons. Cardinals have beaks that are specialized for eating seeds, but they also eat a lot of fruit and a small number of insects. A ripe tomato not only has soft seeds but also a lot of sweet water. On hot days, a cardinal will often look for ripe fruit to slake its thirst. Tomatoes attract several types of insects, including cutworms, fruitworms and big juicy hornworms. Sometimes when a cardinal is snooping around your tomato plants, it is helping prevent damage from pests.

Protecting Tomatoes

People frequently fill their feeders with sunflower or safflower seeds for adult cardinals. One way to protect tomatoes is to add over-ripe fruits, especially berries, to feeders. Adding a source of water — preferably dripping water — not far from the garden can distract thirsty birds. Lightweight bird netting, draped over the tomato plants or supported from stakes, will protect ripening tomatoes. Putting bags over the tomatoes themselves allows the fruit to ripen while staying protected.

Tomatoes are one of the most common plants growing in the typical backyard garden. There is no tomato you can buy that tastes better than a home grown, vine ripened sweet tomato. They are challenging to grow but when done effectively, the outcome can be very fruitful. There are many tips on how to best grow this popular plant. Starting at the top, tomatoes need lots of light. Sunshine is a needed element to a healthy plant. Plant them in the sunniest part of the garden. Many gardeners have invested both time and money only to find their precious tomato plants enjoyed by the birds. Pest birds are not needed in the garden. How do we live harmoniously with these pests? What would an effective bird control product entail to protect the tomatoes and other garden plants?

Garden Bird Netting

One solution would be a physical bird deterrent like bird netting. The bird netting acts as a barrier between your tomato plants and the pest bird. Blocking the pest bird from the tomatoes is not hurting the bird or environment; it is simply encouraging the nuisance birds to find another place as their food source. Garden netting is strong and made of light-weight plastic mesh making for an easy installation. It comes in foot bulk rolls of 14’ by 100’ and 14’ by 200’. Ordinary scissors are used to cut and trip to the exact size and shape that is needed. There are three different mesh sizes. For small birds it is recommended you use 14/” garden netting. For average size birds the ½” mesh would work.

The UV-protected polypropylene material that the mesh is made of is specially designed to endure winter’s rain and the hot days of summer. It is environmentally friendly and made from FDA sanctioned resin. When installed correctly, it is almost invisible. It blends in with the plants, bushes and trees.

A novice backyard gardener can easily install garden bird netting to protect the tomato plants and the entire garden. Whether you are having problems with the smaller sparrow and the big black crow you will be covered with the various mesh sizes. More than likely you are growing various fruit and vegetable plants along with the tomatoes, and the bird netting will deter the bird from those plants and trees as well.

Suspending the netting over the entire garden area is most effective. Suspend the netting over the plants by at least 6 inches. This will prevent the birds from sitting on the netting and eating the fruit beyond the mesh.

All birds have some positive component to our environment. We do not have to give them free reign in our back yard gardens, however. There are plenty of backyards that house birdhouses and bird baths to attract the birds. There is no reason to feel badly about getting rid of the backyard pest bird. They are resourceful creatures and will find food and water without difficulty. Sit back and watch the tomatoes turn bright red without any birds pecking out the sweetness.

We have all asked ourselves this question standing in front of the netting looking confused.

The answer to this question is to first ask yourself, what do I need it for and what do I need to keep out?

Obviously you will need different netting to keep out small animals, birds then insects.

Then, when do I need this netting?

This will be in different stages of the growing.

And finally, why do I need to use netting?

Do I want to eat a lot of chemicals and let them get into my system – Um No.

So let’s start with the small stuff. You are growing tomatoes, so you need the plant to get to a stage where it is healthy and starts producing flowers. For this you will need a tough netting to keep off the possums, turkeys or whatever you have in your area that eats your food. I would use a pre-stretched netting with about 1cm holes (I will talk about why the holes later). This netting needs to be on a frame away from the plant because if the animals think they have any chance of being able to eat that plant they will, so make sure the plant is not touching the netting. Use a frame and keep the netting tight so that the local wildlife cannot get caught and hurt themselves in the netting. We don’t want them to eat our food but we also don’t want to hurt the wildlife. Also, sometimes we need to find a sacrificial plant so that the hungry critters are kept happy and don’t try to eat the good stuff!

So once this is all do and you start getting flowers on the plant they need to be pollinated by insects to produce the fruit so make sure you have holes in it so they can fly in. The next thing you will notice if you don’t change the netting is you will start to have your fruit eaten by the insects so it is now time to move to a smaller netting as the one below.

Above: you can see teh fine netting is just draped over the tomatoes and chillies. This is ok as you can see I already have my larger netting around the whole thing to keep out the big stuff

This will let your fruit grow big and juicy chemical free. Remeber you are what you eat

29th Nov 2016 Klever Cages

Birds Are Eating My Tomatoes – Learn How To Protect Tomato Plants From Birds

You’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears into creating the perfect veggie garden this year. As you’re out giving the garden its daily water, inspection and TLC, you notice your tomatoes, which were just small, bright green orbs yesterday, have taken on some red and orange hues. Then you spot a heart-sinking sight, a cluster of tomatoesthat look like something has taken a bite out of each one. After some of your own covert ops, you discover the culprit is birds. “Help! Birds are eating my tomatoes!” Continue reading to learn how to protect tomato plants from birds.

Keeping Birds Away from Tomatoes

It’s not always easy to keep birds, especially mockingbirds, from eating your ripening tomatoes. When you understand that birds occasionally eat these juicy fruits simply because they are thirsty, controlling this problem becomes a little easier. Placing a bird bath in the garden may be effective for

keeping birds away from tomatoes.

You can also go a step further and create an alternate garden specifically for the birds with bird baths, bird feeders, and plants (viburnum, serviceberry, coneflower) that birds can freely feed upon. Sometimes it’s better to accommodate nature than to fight it.

You can also provide birds with a sacrificial decoy tomato plant that they are allowed to eat, while you protect the tomato plants you want for yourself.

Protecting Tomato Plants from Birds

Most garden centers carry bird netting to protect fruits and veggies from birds. This bird netting needs to be placed over the whole plant to prevent birds from getting caught up in it and anchored down well so they cannot get under it.

You can also build cages from wood and chicken wire to protect tomato plants from birds. I’ve written in the past about placing nylon or mesh around seed heads to collect seeds. Nylon or mesh can also be wrapped around fruits to prevent birds from eating them.

Birds are easily frightened by things that move, spin, light up or reflect. Shiny whirligigs, chimes, aluminum pie pans, old CDs or DVDs can be hung from fishing line around plants that you want to keep birds away from. Some gardeners suggest keeping birds away from tomatoes by creating a web of fishing line or reflective tape over and around the plants.

You can also use flashing Christmas lights or hang shiny Christmas ornaments on the plants to scare birds away. Your neighbors may think you’re crazy for decorating your tomato plants like a Christmas tree in midsummer, but you may yield enough of a harvest to share with them.

Protecting Your Tomatoes From Mockingbirds

  • Photo/Illustration: Greg Holdsworth (All photos)
  • Used or old CDs and DVDs made great reflective objects.
  • Though it wasn’t big, this bird mobile still provided bright red movement.
  • The hallmark choice for this type of setup, aluminum pie pans were not only inexpensive, but also provided light reflection and sound.
  • Simulating a ‘shiny snake’, these patriotic colored pieces of garland also created small light reflections.
  • Spinners provided a great deal of color movement.
  • Meet Egor, my 4-foot-long rubber boa. He enjoys scaring unsuspecting visitors to my garden, and will hopefully help keep the tomatoes damage-free.
  • TIP: If you have a problem with your hanging objects sticking or tangling, attaching a small swivel and “split shot” sinkers to it will help. These are available where you buy fishing tackle.

No garden is complete without tomatoes, and those of us who are tomato devotees each year are faced with several pest challenges. From the cutworm who can decapitate young transplants overnight, to the tomato hornworm that will strip a plant bare of its leaves and smaller stems in a couple days or less, to leaf miners and flea beetles known for their own flavor of leaf damage. No damage, however, compares to the ruthless assaults on tomatoes than Texas’ state bird, the mockingbird.

Here in north Texas, the bird is pretty much a mainstay amongst all the flying creatures; it’s singing and yammering can be heard on a daily basis. For many years, I protected my tomato plants with a series of “cubes”, or square box cages that were basically wood frames covered with metal chicken wire. While this method offered near-perfect protection from the mockingbirds, it made accessing, maintaining and harvesting from the tomato plants cumbersome at best.

Since the cube cages ran their course of use and were falling apart, I knew I had to do something different this year. I had talked to several people who hadn’t had any problems with the mockingbirds, to find out what they were (or weren’t) doing. The consensus seemed to be, to have something that was distracting or frightening to them.

You could certainly just cover the tomatoes with bird netting or a similar material, but I wanted to try something different. The following is how I have set up my “tomato defense system” and what I hope to accomplish.

STEP 1 – Give them what they want.

What!! Are you serious? Yep. Not a deterrant per se, I have placed a birdbath at the opposite end of the garden. Why? I didn’t get very far into my research before I discovered the “why”. In other words, why were the birds punching large holes into my beautiful tomatoes? Simple. Water. They’re probably thirsty and know that the inside of the fruit has a fair amount of liquid inside it. They’re after the water, so why not give them what they need? If they discover that they have an easy water source to get to, they may not be as desperate… especially during the brutal dry summers we get here.

STEP 2 – Build the foundation.

I took advantage of a metal T-shaped post already in the yard that was put in to attach clothes lines to. I removed the clothes lines after I moved in, so the post has just sat there unused… until now. Since the post was on one side of my tomato bed, all I had to do was put in a metal fence post on the opposite side. I connected the two posts with 50-pound-test clear monofilament fishing line.

STEP 3 – Keep it moving.

This involved setting up three types of moving objects. The first was a “wind spinner”, a type of stationery kite that was supported by a pole. The wind spins its parts while moving the whole device around. The stronger the wind blew, the more it spun. Two of those are set up. They are patriotic-colored with bright reds and blues. The second type of moving object was something suspended from a line, free to move around in any direction. Enter old CDs, DVDs and aluminum pie pans. I needed something inexpensive or something I already had at home, and these fit the bill perfectly. The third, foil-colored garland, provided a “flying snake” effect as they were attached to the main line.

STEP 4 – Brighten up the sky.

My research also revealed that mockingbirds (and other types of birds) could be frightened or distracted by bright objects that reflected light in all directions. The CDs, DVDs, and pie pans not only served as moving objects, they are great at reflecting the sun’s light as they move. Since the garland was made of a metal foil material, they also sparkled in the sunlight.

STEP 5 – Sound off.

If you have a cloudy day, you take away the reflective light advantage of the setup. However, you still have the moving objects. You also have a third dimension created by the pie pans… sound. As the pans get pushed around by the wind, they make tin banging noises (not enough to be annoying fortunately).

STEP 6 – Rubber reptiles.

Though my dog is my true garden buddy, I have another “assistant”. This assistant is a 4-foot-long snake. No, it isn’t real… it’s rubber. Its name is Egor, and it was purchased at a Halloween store last year. Every time I’m out in the garden for longer than a few minutes, Egor gets moved to a new location. This may not really be distracting the birds, but I make the effort anyway.

The proof of this system working will be in the proverbial pudding. I will be convinced that it helped by “nothing happening”. In other words, none (or very few) of my beautiful tomatoes will have been damaged. And I’ll have a great answer to anyone thinking I’ve “flipped my wig” as a crazy gardener. I’ll keep you all updated on what happens.

I’ve also posted a short video here showing the setup in action.

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