The problem with Common Blackbirds

One of my readers posed this perplexing problem with Common Blackbirds:

Helppppp!!We have a Huggggggge problem with Blackbirds in our garden, flicking our mulch all over the place, it’s driving us crazy, do you know where we could get one of those electronic things to scare them off, or anything else that would work in getting rid of them??
Regards
Mary.

This is a common problem in many gardens.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, there is no simple, easy solution. Most gardeners tolerate this behaviour because they love to hear the beautiful song of the Blackbird during the breeding season.

Electronic device:

Mary asks about an electronic device to scare them away. I do not know of any but I suggest asking at the local hardware stores and garden centres. A long search of the internet turned up one very expensive (about $50US) device in a store in Kansas. The downside of this device is that it does not discriminate; it scares ALL birds, including the native birds that keep the natural balance of nature in the garden. Without the native birds eating the insects like mosquitoes, flies, beetles, centipedes, spiders and so on, our gardens would become an ecological disaster area. It would be a far greater problem than the nuisance caused by the Blackbirds.

Other alternatives:

Here we need to get a little creative. I’m not sure whether any of these ideas will work because I haven’t tried them. Some may even look a little ugly.

  1. Get rid of the mulch – with water restrictions this may not be desirable or possible.
  2. Replace the bark mulch with gravel or pebbles too heavy for the birds to move – an expensive solution.
  3. Build 20cm high walls along the edges of the garden so that the Blackbirds do not flick the mulch on to the path. These could be made of stone, brick, pavers, wooden sleepers, pine posts on their edges and so on. Be creative.
  4. Cover the mulch with chicken wire, shade-cloth or weed mat. Probably not a good look.
  5. Turn around your attitude and learn to love the birds; after all, they are just looking for lunch.

I guess these suggestions may not please Mary and may just add to her frustrations. Sorry, Mary.

Reader questions:

Over to my readers:

  • Do you have any suggestions for Mary? (Please be nice – offensive comments will not be published).
  • How have you solved this dilemma in your garden?
  • Reply in the comments section below. Update: comments are now closed for this post because, sadly,  some people cannot help being abusive.
Common Blackbird (male)

Common Blackbird (male)

UPDATE: I also posed this question to subscribers of the Birding-Aus forum. Many of their comments are recorded in the comments section below. I love the one about leaving plastic snakes lying around!

 

49 Responses to “The problem with Common Blackbirds”

  1. Anthea Fleming says:

    Cover the mulch with chickwire or plastic mesh, staked well down. Alternatively, make a fence round the edge of the garden beds with six-inch high mesh. We found that left-over lengths of gutter-guard mesh worked quite well, and looked neat(Suggested by ABC Garden Show). It will fall over in a year or two but then you fix it again. You can support it with wire tent-pegs.
    Otherwise, you have to accept that searching for food items in mulch or leaf litter is what Blackbirds do. If you provide a well dug-over patch they will like that too. Remember that they work on insect and pest controls for about 14 hours a day, and eat a lot of small snails.
    Meanwhile, enjoy their song.

  2. John Tongue says:

    I have to admit to having harboured less than charitable (aka ‘murderous’) thoughts towards blackbirds myself in the past. Presently, I don’t have many areas they attack, but I know may people who edge their garden beds with a wall/boundary of gutter-mesh part buried (upright) so the top edge is about 10cm above the level of the mulch. Doesn’t stop them digging and flicking, but does seem to stop the mulch spreading far and wide.

  3. John Tongue says:

    P.S. Given my past experience with them (where everything new added to my garden was soon dug out), I don’t know that I will ever grow to ‘love’ blackbirds!

  4. Snail says:

    I learnt quite quickly that you don’t use shredded paper under mulch if you have blackbirds around. Sure, it worked well in North Queensland but in Melbourne … Well, it was only a matter of days before the garden looked like a ticker-tape parade.

    Not a helpful comment, I know … but a heartfelt one. I’m just thankful I don’t have brush turkeys!

  5. Trevor says:

    Thanks for the constructive comments Anthea and John.

    Yes they can be a pest for those who want a neat tidy garden. Fortunately our “garden” merges so well with the surrounding mallee scrub we don’t even notice this habit of the Blackbirds.

    Snail – Brush Turkeys in the garden? Now there’s a thought. I’ll just settle for a Malleefowl or two – after all, the nearest population is only about 15km away.

  6. Dorothy says:

    My neighbours have put plastic snakes on the adjacent pathways. It spooked me and they say it works on the blackbirds too!

  7. Trevor says:

    Excellent suggestion Dorothy.

    Now all they have to do is worry about the Kookaburras coming down to “kill” the snakes!

  8. Trevor says:

    Hi Trevor

    It’s a huge problem. 100 years after the first settlement of Europeans around here, that great bird observer Barbara Salter suggested that Blackbirds were the main cause of the disappearance of orchids.

    Blackbirds turn over soil at a huge rate per annum (I know the figure is out there but haven’t found it).

    Solutions? Cats, dogs… It depends on what you want to keep and what you do not mind being hurt. It’s been like that for 150 years.

    Michael

  9. Trevor says:

    This comment came to me via email:

    Years ago we bought a house in Albury which had a large garden full of Blackbirds, they were all over the place. The vendors didn’t have a cat, but we did. Within weeks of moving in the Blackbirds had virtually disappeared from that garden. We now live in Mulgoa, have no cat, but the neighbours introduce one from time to time, and the number of Blackbirds seems inversely related to the presence of cats. It was salutory lesson; cats and birds don’t mix.
    Cheers
    Michael

  10. Trevor says:

    This comment came to me via email:

    You know, I’m thinking that “get a cat and let it roam unfettered around the yard” probably isn’t the ecologically responsible solution that Trevor’s contact is after.

    Bill

  11. Trevor says:

    Thanks to Tony for this comments via Birding-Aus:

    No solution Trevor, but I reckon everybody with Blackbirds has the same problem, I know I have. Short of having a garden with no movable surface materials ( or culling the birds) I don’t think there’s much you can do.

  12. Trevor says:

    Thanks to Chris for this comment via email and to Birding-Aus:

    Hi Trevor,

    It was related to me recently that Red Wattlebirds give Blackbirds a very hard time, to the point of driving them away. Perhaps by attracting Wattlebirds and Miners (not Mynahs) you could create a situation where native birds are driving the blackbirds away. Of course they won’t discriminate so you’ll lose any small birds you have as well.

    Regards,
    Chris

  13. Trevor says:

    Thanks to Margaret who sent this comment via email and on Birding-Aus:

    When I lived in Geelong (Victoria) there were lots of Blackbirds. I had a small garden which had 4 nesting pairs which hatched young every year (sometimes more than once – I didn’t keep track). They often built nests in extremely dopey places – for example in a vine on a fence where my cat could see into it on her daily parade around the top of the fence. Yes I had a cat which did catch Blackbirds over the 10+ years we lived there – one adult male and a couple of babies just out of the nest. The dead babies I found had mostly killed themselves in stupid or tragic ways – like trying to walk out under the front gate, getting stuck, and dying there. I did not find the cat was a Blackbird deterrent, I just swept up the mulch now and again.

    Liz Kerr kept the Blackbirds off some of her garden beds with a kind of plastic netting which I assume she bought at a garden shop. It was dark green so was not offensively visible. It was no good on beds she wanted to plant things in or work in frequently (she had many bulbs) but OK on beds that had shrubs surrounded by lots of thick mulch.

    Margaret

  14. Trevor says:

    Tony added this further comment:

    This doesn’t work at my place. I’ve got Blackbirds, Red Wattlebirds, Little Wattlebirds( or whatever they are called now in SA), House Sparrows, at least two Magpie families, Spotted Turtle-Doves, Aust and Little Ravens, GSTs, plus a range of honeyeaters, Pardalotes, etc, etc., and, unfortunately the occasional Noisy Miner ( aggressive monsters that they are), and they all seem to stay in this location – albeit with a fairly clear pecking order. The Blackbirds are pretty quick on their feet when the Magpies or Ravens give them a chase, but they just wait ’til the bigger birds have gone.

    Tony.

  15. Trevor says:

    Michael made this comment on the Birding-Aus forum:

    I have just opened a catalogue from “Health pride” (www.healthpride.com.au)advertising a “holographic magnetic bird barrier” which is claimed to “deter birds within a 6m radius, by disrupting the magnetic field and redirecting bird’s navigation” all for $9.90.

    Michael

  16. Trevor says:

    Bill followed up the previous comment with this:

    My scepticism alarm just went off.

    Can’t understand why…

    Bill

  17. Trevor says:

    Penny added this comment on the Birding- Aus forum:

    And what about people with gardens infested with Brush Turkeys, or Lyrebirds and bandicoots – I remembers some years ago a woman living on the edge of Jervis Bay National Park saying the NPWS rangers should cull the bandicoots as they kept digging up her carefully planted rock plants.

    Yes, learn to live with them – they are better to have around than cats.

  18. Trevor says:

    Graham emailed this comment:

    I’ve got both a cat and wattlebirds (two types) plus miners and I still have blackbirds, so I don’t think either of these are going to work.

    The best method I’ve found is to find the blackbirds nest and deal with it.

    Cheers
    Graham

  19. Trevor says:

    Phillip left this comment on the Birding-Aus forum:

    Two cures to Blackbirds damaging gardens:

    1> Prune the shrubs around their nest to help the Pied Currawongs find and eat the babies. Doesn’t stop the behaviour but reduces the number of Blackbirds.

    2> Live near where the Australian Brush-turkeys are mound building. That probably won’t reduce the problem of Blackbirds. However it will give you a similar problem on a much bigger scale, thereby taking your mind off the Blackbirds.

    Philip

  20. Trevor says:

    Kurtis left this comment on the Birding-Aus forum:

    I think the woman and her plants should be culled, not the Bandicoots!

    While on the topic I believe Long-nosed Bandicoots have came along way over the past 200 years. The poor creatures have endured conflict with humans on and off throughout this time.

    It was common in the 1940′s & 1950′s for gardeners along the East Coast (especially Sydney) to ‘gas’ or ‘smoke-out’ the poor bandicoots from their homes, where they would be killed. This was only because they were thought to cause damage to lawns and garden beds – the poor animals were only doing what came natural! Bandicoots don’t cause half as much damage to lawns as European Rabbits do!

    Not long after their persecution for destroying gardens, came their persecution (and execution) for apparently harbouring “deadly” ticks (any sort of tick bite was believed to have caused Lyme’s disease at this time). Sure bandicoots may have carried a few ticks but no more than any other animals (namely foxes and cats).

    “…some people associate bandicoots with ticks, this may be because humans tend to pick up ticks most easily in long grass or thick scrub – which also happens to be the type of habitat favoured by bandicoots.” – NSW NPWS

    Other threats to these innocent Australian icons over time have been the introduction of cats, dogs, pigs and rabbits. While the main two impacts on bandicoots has been the introduction and proliferation of foxes and the clearing of natural habitat.

    Long-nosed Bandicoots now have a restricted range in city areas like Sydney, however as a result of increased awareness of the bandicoots plight, the baiting of foxes and maintenance of bushland, Bandicoots are making a comeback, and I am all for them.

    Kurtis

  21. Trevor says:

    Another good suggestion, also from Kurtis:

    A realistic solution is SCAT produced by Multicrop.
    It is chemical specifically designed to repel birds and it is an affordable, non-toxic chemical which is sprayed or scattered around the garden and stops birds altogether, I have used it on my garden beds and seen results (it also repels dogs and cats from sensitive areas)
    http://www.multicrop.com.au/animal.htm

    Kurtis

  22. Shane says:

    The problem for me is the song of the blackbird – I find it excrutitingly annoying

  23. Trevor says:

    Hi there Shane. Most people find the song of the Blackbird to be its only redeeming feature, especially considering its habit of scratching mulch out of garden beds on to the paths in the garden. I personally find the song to be beautiful – until it goes on and on and on – then it can get a little wearisome.

  24. Amy says:

    I love baby black birds, if anyone wanting to get rid of black birds nest, I can have the babies.

  25. Bruce says:

    I found this site to help the “mulch over the path problem” caused by the Blackbirds. The snakes work to an extent. I am training my borber collies to chase them. They do on command but not when I am around. One pair built a nest in the passion fruit vine under my daughter’s bedroom window. The young birds were raised, flew the coup, then the bird lice marched up the vine in the window and found my daughter. This is another good reason to rid them from the yard.

  26. Trevor says:

    Indeed it is Bruce. Not good news about your daughter. How did you solve that problem? Common Starlings are even worse for spreading lice in a house I believe.

  27. Bruce says:

    We sprayed the nest, vine, fly screen and window sills, wall etc with fly spray, washed the sheets and vacuumed the room. Problem with the lice solved, but not the blackbird problem.

  28. Trevor says:

    Thanks for that Bruce.

  29. Jim says:

    I have a large, mulched garden full of native plants. Blackbirds have, until recently, turned my garden into a moonscape with me filling in 80 – 100 holes per day. Following on the plastic snakes idea, I went to the local junk shop and bought a five dollar bag of mixed rubber reptiles. This included a pink iguana, an orange crocodile and a bright red snake with green spots. For 3 days, NO birds entered the garden. Now, the only birds missing are the starlings, the indian mynahs and (until yesterday) the blackbirds; they attacked an area with no roaming rubber reptiles, (and only 2 holes). Five bucks and a trip to the junk shop should fix that. Move them around occasionally and the birds seem to think they’re real. Fingers crossed it keeps working.

    Jim

  30. Trevor says:

    Thanks Jim. This seems to be a very cost effective method of dealing with this pest. I hope it continues to work for you. It certainly must add some colour to your garden. Pink iguana – yikes – that’s enough to scare anything.

    Congratulations on having native plants in your garden – you might like to have a look at my wife’s blog:
    http://www.malleenativeplants.com.au/

  31. Glenda says:

    I was surfing to look for solutions to crows digging holes and uprooting new plants in my garden and came across this site. I have tried hanging silver tins and other silver twirling items around but the birds just ignored them. Will try the plastic snakes and pink iguanas. Thanks for the tips.

  32. Trevor says:

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment Glenda.

    Let’s all know how you get on with your new “pets” in your garden.

  33. Warren says:

    Im afraid I have no love what so ever for blackbirds. They decimate your garden and leave your outdoor furniture covered in droppings. Cover your furniture over and they will find the smallest hole and continue their filthy habit. I have tried plastic snakes which work for awhile but the birds soon become very nonchalant and actually kick them out of the way. Have tried rat traps which have mixed results – even submerging a trap in a bowl of water – they love water much to our dogs disgust as they bath in her water bowl. I make a mission of destroying nests through the breeding season. I would suggest they are in plague proportions here – its not uncommon to see thousands of them spread put over council playing fields digging and scratching to their hears content. Would love to find out who introduced them to Australia – would probably drop a line to the descendants !!!!

  34. Trevor says:

    Welcome to my birding blog Warren. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

    Many people would agree with your sentiments about the annoyance of Blackbirds – as well as the common starling and the Indian Myna, also in plague proportions in many parts of Australia.

    The acclimatisation societies of the nineteenth century have much to answer for, what with these birds, cats, rabbits, hares, foxes etc. Then you have the many other deliberately or accidentally introduced species that have gone feral eg the cane toads, camels, pigs, donkeys, horses, mice, rats – well, you get the picture. No wonder we have the worst record on earth for sending species to extinction.

  35. kasia Cichonski says:

    Except for asking everyone to learn to live with these
    beautiful birds I don’t really have any solutions to
    ridding them from your garden.
    Seriously what’s the big deal about a bit of misplaced
    mulch?

    We love having Blackbirds in our large garden and don’t
    mind in the slightest their foraging amongst leaf litter and other mulches.

    Their beautiful song throughout the year makes up
    for their sometimes messy habits ….

    I find it really hard to believe people don’t actually like their melodious singing!

    Perhaps these people need to clean their ears out…
    as my dear dad says ‘someone must have taken you to the zoo when you were little and an elephant stepped on your ears cos you don’t know good music when you hear it!’ ;)

    Perhaps us humans should observe nature more closely
    and see that it is not naturally neat and tidy.

    It certainly would make for less stress in our lives if
    we could learn to relax a bit and not get worked up over birds making ‘a mess’ or leaves and twigs falling from trees onto our neatly manicured lawns that in reality need too much care and most importantly too much water to keep
    them looking their best.

    As some people here have rightly pointed out a lot of environmental damage has been done to this country by the
    introduction of foreign species…I would add that we
    the European is also a foreign species that seems to persist in wanting to work against the natural Australian enviroment by using foreign plants and lawns not suited to our climate.

    If we could all learn to adopt a more relaxed natural
    way of gardening which is sympathetic to the Australian climate then I’m sure some of us wouldn’t find
    the harmless gentle Black bird so infuriating.

    And regarding Jim’s comments above about the Blackbirds turning his garden into a moonscape………!

    We would have all year round, at least 15 to 20 of these birds inhabiting our large 5 acre garden and we’ve never observed them digging holes as he describes but we certainly have annoying little brown house sparrows who do this kind of digging throughout the garden and in our hay shed….
    they dig holes for their sand baths….and they sit on the rafters under my verandah poohing everywhere!!

    Give me all your Blackbirds that annoy you so and you can
    have all the stinky little brown house sparrows from our place,
    they certainly won’t annoy you with their song (they can’t sing for nuts) or check a bit of mulch on your lawn and footpaths but they will breed like mice and pooh
    all over your outdoor furniture and anywhere else they
    choose to.

  36. Trevor says:

    Well said Kasia. You make some very good points.

    I must admit to loving the sound of a Blackbird, especially around dusk on a still, quiet spring evening.

  37. Paulene says:

    I love birds in my garden, and I have watched two blackbirds make their nest and raise their babies now for some weeks.While we have no local cats to cause concern, I am very distressed by the attacks on both nest and baby birds on the ground by butcherbirds. I know they all have to eat but wondered if there is anything I can do to minimize the chances of them becoming prey? Unless I remove the nest (should I do this?) I’m in for a whole summer of watching this slaughter and the parents’ distress. They work so hard! Any suggestions? I’d be very grateful.

  38. kasia says:

    Trevor thank you.
    Me too and when I hear the male Blackbird’s unmistakable song for the first time each year I always smile and feel
    grateful that it’s Spring again.
    Paulene, I feel for you, it’s difficult to watch this type of behaviour in nature and unfortunately I don’t have any
    suggestions to keep Butcher birds away from the nests
    and babies.
    Hope you find a solution but I believe Butcher birds
    are very territorial and will not tolerate any birds
    they feel are a threat to their existence.
    I wish you luck!

  39. Lenie says:

    I think you are all mad. I love black birds scratching around and singing in my garden. Much prefer observing life than a neat garden edge. I fear we haven’t evolved at all.

  40. Trevor says:

    Thanks for stopping by Lenie and for leaving your contribution to the debate.

  41. dianne says:

    Ease up on these gorgeous, hard working Blackbirds, who cares if they dig up your precious gardens, what’s a bit of mulch on the path or a whole here or there..!! Get a broom and sweep, it’ll be good for you.. I have had two months of laughs, tears and frustrating times with the most cutiest pair of Blackbirds.. What a joy its been watching the female lay her four eggs in my shed on top of all my pots, then being able to actually take photos of her young hatching, growing up, feeding and then leaving the nest.. Now the three (lost one in the heat) young (all females) are three months old and live in my front protea and wattle trees!! Only yesterday as I went to get some pots from the shed did I notice LOW AND BEHOLD, there’s that gorgeous little female on top of ANOTHER four eggs!!! What a wonderfu home I have watching one of lifes many wonders in their role as a FAMILY!! Love Birds even SPARROWS and PIDGEONS… I think we should all slow down and watch these lovely creatures live life..

  42. Trevor says:

    You make some excellent points Dianne – well said.

  43. Colin Soars says:

    Well sorry guys but the only good Blackbirds (and other intoduced birds) is a dead one. I get them with rat traps with somtimes mixed results. First I set them up to scare them but now they avoid them so I now set them fatally. I let the birds have their way for a week then set the traps and kill as many as I can. Somtimes they catch other introduced birds such as IM and Pigeons but never natives. I also tried a net strung in the shrubs but it caught a noisy minor which lives here. (was he cranky when I let him go)

  44. Anthony says:

    I agree with Colin here.

    Your story Dianne just describes how quickly these scum birds multiply.

  45. dianne says:

    Oh well, Sorry you feel that way Anthony, but there are more important things to life than killing innocent birds no matter what species they are..

  46. Colin says:

    I manage to do the more “important things in life” and rid my garden and surrounding bushland of introduced vermin and still have time left over

  47. Anthony says:

    They are not innocent birds by any stretch. They destroy the nests and habitats of our native birds.

  48. Trevor says:

    I have decided to close comments on this post.

    Thanks everyone for contributing to the debate.