Wood pigeons seem to be increasing in number and everywhere I go, to give a talk, do a demo in a garden centre or doing a GQT these feathery pests certainly seem to be featuring heavily in people’s gardens! They do damage all over the garden, but worst hit are the edibles – leaves are ripped, and often only the leaf-veins remain; brassicas, beetroot, spinach and peas are particularly susceptible and are often eaten down to stumps. During the summer months they land on fruit-laden raspberry canes or gooseberry bushes and eat the fruits, often also snapping stems in the process. Now that it is winter and natural food supplies are short, they will eat just about anything and any overwintering crops such as purple sprouting broccoli, kale or cabbage are at real risk.
Best physical barriers to deter wood pigeons
When crops are young and most susceptible and now, when the pigeons are the most hungry, I use physical barriers such as pop-up net or mesh covered crop covers or pull out mini tunnels covered in net, fleece or mesh are great for younger or smaller crops and many of the oriental vegetables. You could also construct your own using flower-pot-topped bamboo canes to support pea & bean netting which must then also be pegged down and held taut so that birds don’t get entangled in the net. With brassicas I tend to keep them covered right the way through, sometimes starting with a low-cover and then moving to a taller pop-up as the crops get taller. The advantage of this is that when the crops are kept covered, you can often keep off other major pests such as cabbage white butterflies, aphids, weevils and flea beetles, and sometimes even squirrels and rabbits too.
In the spring and summer, with many younger crops like peas I only use the cover until the plants are 30cm or so tall, as once larger than this they are less appealing to pigeons. It is also worth bearing in mind that with peas and any fruiting crop, it is essential to allow access for pollinating insects, something most finer mesh does not provide. But, it’s essential to cover the crops as soon as they emerge or are planted out, pigeons seem to spot them, even from a distance and will massacre them in no time at all!
Scarecrows to scare wood pigeons
You could also try making some scarecrows, life-like models of cats, birds of prey, snakes etc as these can help to keep birds at a distance. A great project for kids on the next wet weekend! Strips of reflective material such as aluminium foil, old DVDs or CDs suspended on strings from trees or posts can also help and won’t break the bank either. Using ‘Buzzline’ or a home-made version taken from the inside of old VHS tapes found lurking in the cupboard and held taut between posts or canes will vibrate and keep pigeons away…but remember they soon learn and so it is best to have several methods ready !