10 Birds You Want in Your Orchard (And How to Keep Away the Ones You Don’t)
Birds are excellent pollinators and insect-eaters, and many of them have pretty singing voices. Having them in your orchard is often beneficial, since they help control many different types of pests that damage fruit and crops while also helping trees and other plants to flower. That said, certain winged creatures will dine on the fruit growing on trees, and while it’s not usually devastating, there are times when crops can be thoroughly destroyed. Here’s a list of ten birds you want in your orchard (and how to keep away the ones you don’t).
These cheerful little birds are very beneficial, friendly, and just as smart. Keep some feeders full of suet and sunflower seeds, and they will remember there’s food to be had in your orchard. They will flock in groups, happily taking care of any grubs, caterpillars, and insects found on your fruit trees.
A great tactic to prevent pests like apple maggots and coddling moths is to integrate more bluebirds into your orchard. Known for their beautiful singing voices, the bluebird is great at plucking flying insects out of the air while also eating beetles, weevils, and even grasshoppers. Set up functional bluebird houses on every row to attract them to your property.
The diet of hummingbirds is not limited to the nectar of flowers, and they will consume a number of small insects, like gnats. Their main benefit to an orchard, or any outdoor space, is their role as a pollinator. Even if your fruit trees are self-pollinating, having an abundance of native plants and flowers around will create a healthy ecosystem, keeping things in balance and pests in check.
These little fighters like to forage for insects in the trunks of fruit trees and will eat up any sized crawlers they find along the way. They are competitive when it comes to any food, so if you put out bird feeders, they may hoard it all in sneaky places! They are especially good for pear orchards since they will eat the “pear psylla,” a common pest.
Tanagers are bright, tropical birds that fly in for spring and stay until fall. They are one of the few birds that are excellent at eating stinging insects. They will dance along branches looking for any insect they can find: beetles, caterpillars, flies, cicadas, but may also nibble on small fruit, so best not lure them into orchards with berries. Still, as some of the only predators of wasps, they are a benefit to have around.
As their name suggests, these noisy birds will bore into trees to get at many troublesome insects like aphids, beetles, and millipedes, but their main diet consists of the pupae of moths and caterpillars. They are pretty neat to watch as they work their way around a tree in a spiral formation and will especially benefit apple orchards that suffer from the coddling moth.
7. Tree Swallows
Tree swallows will consume large quantities of insect larvae, mosquitos, moths, snails, grubs, and caterpillars but also dine on flying insects like flies and moths, making them one of the best birds to have in your orchard. They will happily set up camp in birdhouses, just like the bluebird, and like to graze over open areas.
These tiny birds have a lot of spunk and are fun to watch, bouncing around in search of ants, grubs, and snails. They like to hunt for insects closer to the ground and will also feed on beetles and caterpillars. Attract these hearty insect eaters with some extra food in feeders, a few birdbaths, and places to shelter and nest.
Hawks are sometimes seen as an ominous sight, but they keep ecosystems in balance by taking care of small vermin, snakes, rodents, and large insects – all of which will benefit a healthy orchard. As long as there is enough prey around, they typically don’t interfere with or hunt other beneficial birds, but some species will go after whatever they can get their talons on.
Owls, and especially the barn owl, can be extremely beneficial to any orchard that suffers from rodents and vermin, or even snakes. They are nocturnal and hunt at night, making them excellent predators that will pursue the prey that hawks don’t. They will kill smaller birds, but choose a variety of prey, rather than taking out a specific species.
Identifying Unwanted Birds
There are many birds that will snack on the fruit growing on your orchard trees to the point of it being a problem. Crows love to peck on apples, and robins will consume smaller, whole pieces of fruit like berries, usually in bulk. Red-winged blackbirds, common grackles, cedar waxwings, European starlings, house sparrows, and finches will all nibble away to the point of possible crop destruction.
Identification of birds is crucial when you want to assess the issues at hand. Take some time to observe their behavior, as it may be not obvious which ones are beneficial, and which ones are problematic. It’s not always cut and dry, either, as some birds may eat some fruit, while also consuming their fair share of problematic pests.
There are ways to deter the more problematic avian threats: try and plant away from common nesting spots, and remember that orchards near cities will have the most issues with domestic birds. Netting can be used once the tree has bloomed, but this is not always feasible with large-scale orchards. Note: the larger your orchard, the less overall damage will occur, as birds will have more than enough to feed on, especially if you set up feeders.
Visual and Audible Deterrents
Using deterrents such as plastic owls, scarecrows, gunshot sounds, or distress calls will frighten off birds, though, this can be short-lived once they figure out the source. One of the best ways to control feeding is to rely on, or integrate natural predators into the area: if nature is in check, you may lose some fruit, but the natural balance of predators should keep any losses to a minimum.
In addition to this method, setting out bird-feeders will also detract the birds from eating your crops, since they can fill up easily on the seeds and grain provided. The best approach is to use a variety of methods, and start any control tactics before the growing season to deter feeding patterns when possible.
Note that it is illegal to kill any species of bird (subject to both federal and state laws) without a permit. Killing birds is not the most feasible, not to mention humane, way to save your crops, anyway. Unless you have an outright nuisance problem, learning to live and let live with your flying friends is going to be the best route in the long run. Like most kinds of healthy cultivation, it’s all about balance.