The image of a blackbird patiently waiting to feast on ripening corn is an accurate one. However, most birds, including blackbirds, don't eat the leaves of vegetable plants. It's possible that another pest is eating your garden. Regardless of the culprit, unless the damage is severe, you can probably ignore it.
Identify the Pest
It's unusual for birds to eat the leaves off vegetable plants. They usually prefer the fruits, taking bits of tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) or berries. They'll also eat young seedlings, corn (Zea mays), sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus) and other seeds in the garden. Rabbits, deer and insect pests are more likely suspects. Spend some time watching your garden to verify that birds are the cause of your troubles. The type of damage you see can also help you identify the pest. Insects usually leave small holes, although they may occasionally strip or skeletonize leaves. Rabbits and deer strip leaves or eat them back to the ground and cause much more widespread destruction.
Birds are skittish things, easily frightened by movement and light. Use this tendency to your advantage in the vegetable garden. Install strips of mylar ribbon, aluminum pie pans or old CDs in the garden. As these objects flap in the wind, they reflect light, which startles the birds. An owl decoy or scarecrow might also work.
One of the best ways to keep all pests out of your vegetable garden is through the use of floating row covers. These lightweight agricultural fabrics fit right over newly planted crops. They let in sunlight and water but keep out pests, including birds, deer and insects. Some gardeners make miniature hoop tunnels out of PVC pipe or electrical conduit and stretch floating row covers over them. Drive hollow stakes into the ground or attach them to a raised bed. Insert the PVC pipes into the stakes to create a hoop effect. Keep in mind, though, that the row covers must be removed when plants start flowering so that bees can pollinate them. Bird netting is also a good choice, although you might have to use several layers for complete effectiveness.
Before you ban birds from your garden, remember that only a few birds are truly problematic. Most birds are actually helpful, because they keep insect pests under control. Many gardeners actively plan gardens to attract birds. To encourage beneficial birds, keep bird feeders in a location away from the vegetable garden, and plant fruit-bearing shrubs for the birds to enjoy.
- Alabama Cooperative Extension: Control of Mammals and Birds in the Vegetable Garden
- Oregon State University Extension: How to Make Your Garden More Bird-Friendly
- Mother Earth News: The No-Spray Way to Protect Plants
- Which: How to Deal With Bird Problems
- Post Harvest: Horticultural Crop Names and Alternate Names
- Modern Botanical: Sunflower
- Oregon State University Extension: Eat From the Garden All Year
- Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images