None of us would see all species of birds as a pest – and the vast majority of people welcome most species of birds into their gardens and enjoy seeing them elsewhere if they don’t have a garden – but some specific species can be a nuisance, to some people, and that’s what we’ll deal with here.
Firstly, all wild birds, their eggs and nests are protected by law, but this does vary by species and circumstance (and in far more detail than we can cover here), so if you are in any doubt over what action you can take, then this is a good place to start http://www.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/policy/wildbirdslaw/index.asp.
For most people, the nuisance wild birds can create is:
- Nesting in unwelcome areas of their property (e.g. over an entrance doorway)
- Roosting in large numbers in their garden at night (this is generally Starlings but can also be Pied Wagtails)
- Larger birds such as Jackdaws taking the food (often most of it) put out for smaller garden birds
- Noise made by Gulls and Crows (often early in the morning)
- Herons taking fish from garden ponds
To take these issues one-by-one, birds which typically nest in buildings – e.g. Swallows and House Sparrows – do so because they’ve evolved to coexist with humans. So in other words their survival is very much linked to our activities and specifically the buildings we create (and, in the case of the two birds just mentioned, both have declined in recent decades because of human actions – e.g. modern farming practices). Therefore before taking action to prevent birds from nesting (and if a nest is to be removed then check your position legally first) consider if it actually wouldn’t be better to let the birds nest, breed, raise young and therefore you’ve made a valuable contribution to the success of the species. Doing so may well give you and your family great enjoyment and, anyway, what’s the worst problem the birds can cause? Probably just droppings to wash off the ground and wall (surely a price well worth paying…).
During the winter months, a few species of birds will use specific areas to roost overnight and may come back to use the same place night after night and for several months. The species most likely to do this is the Starling, but Pied Wagtails often also do the same. Both species often pick town or city centre locations (so more of a problem for your local council than you) but will also pick certain gardens – often where there’s a Leylandi hedge in the case of Starlings. The nuisance this can cause is noise when the birds first descend (in particular if there are several thousand of them) but more the amount of droppings which can accumulate under the trees they roost in. The actual sight of the birds descending into their roost is generally spectacular (so many people will accept the birds, enjoy them being there and live with the mess problem they create), but if you do want to prevent it then the easiest way is to scare the birds off as they descend.
The third problem will be well known to bird lovers as most people which feed their garden birds will, at some time (if not all of it), have problems with larger birds pinching all the food! The main culprits are the Crow family (which include Jackdaws and Magpies) and the issue isn’t just that they’ll aggressively take the food available (smaller species are wary of crows – in particular Magpies and Carrion Crows as both will take and eat young birds) but also that they will ‘problem solve’ and find ways to get food which you might suppose they’d never be able to do (the crow family, or ‘Corvids’ to give them their proper family name, are believed to be the most intelligent birds in the world). But as attempts to frighten these birds off will also mean frightening off your Robin, Blackbird and other loved garden species, the best approach is specialist feeders and ground cages (which even the smartest crow won’t get into), and the best range we know is from here: http://www.haiths.com/.
The fourth is a particularly difficult problem because the noise made by larger birds calling such as Gulls (which are usually Herring Gulls) and Crows (which obviously lack the musical tones of most garden song birds!) is often made while they’re flying. So attempts to scare them off, as with problem two, may not be successful – in particular for Gulls. So this could well be a problem which has to be lived with (and perhaps expected if you live on or near the coast as far as Herring Gulls are concerned).
The last main problem is Herons taking fish from garden ponds. Firstly it must be stressed that the Heron is strictly protected by law and although government licences are sometimes issued to kill them, this would not extend to ornamental fish in garden ponds. Therefore one of the following methods could be considered:
Creating a barrier
The only really guaranteed method of preventing fish being taken by Herons is by covering the pond with netting or a steel mesh. This also needs to be fixed well above the pond to ensure the Heron can’t get its long bill through the mesh. Although this method will work, it clearly won’t look attractive so it is, perhaps, something of a final resort.
Creating a semi-barrier
A compromise to the above could be to stretch thin cables or even fishing line across the pond at set distances. Although this would probably work if the Heron flies directly to the pond and tries to land in the margins, it probably won’t prevent those that land on the ground first and then walk to the pond.
Creating somewhere for fish to easily hide
Although not a foolproof solution, placing some sections of drain pipe horizontally on the bottom of the pond may allow fish (providing they’re quick enough…) to escape the grasp of the Heron’s bill.
Scaring the bird by the pond
There are a number of bamboo see-saw products available where water gradually feeds into a hollow open-ended section of bamboo, tipping the balance and causing the sudden movement and rush of water. This style of feature won’t appeal to everyone, but it is none the less and option.
Pest-Stop can offer the ‘Spray-Away’, which is a motion-sensitive unit , battery-operated, which is attached to a garden hose and sprays a jet of water at intruders; this product has been tested against herons and found to be highly effective in deterring them.