Most of us welcome birds in our garden, but wood pigeons, though they look attractive, are often a pest. So what measures have you taken to keep ‘em off your cabbages?
Living in London, I don’t see many wood pigeons. But I am often greeted by a flock of city pigeons, flying at sufficient distance so as to not ruffle me with their feathers, but just close enough so that I’m urged to duck.
I can’t say I’m their biggest fan, but then I’m sure I’m not on their Christmas card list either…
Wood pigeon numbers booming
It’s a different story in the New Forest; from whence I originate. Wood pigeons gather in smaller numbers, although they all seem to enjoy perching on the branches of an impressive oak tree that happens to sit at the foot of our back garden. This is usually of no consequence, except when our car is parked beneath the tree and we’re greeted by carefully placed pigeon droppings on the windscreen of a morning.
In the autumn these droppings are coloured a deep shade of purple – pigeons seem to have a penchant for blackberries. The car is rarely parked under that oak tree anymore.
Apart from blackberries, there isn’t much in our garden for the wood pigeons to feed on, so they’re very welcome to stick around. However, in our 2013 survey of garden problems, over a third of people who had an issue with pests and diseases said pigeons were their biggest headache.
And their numbers are booming, with a current population of 2.7 million wood pigeons in the UK according to the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden BirdWatch.
They apparently have a voracious appetite for brassicas, including spring cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts (watch out this Christmas!), and will quickly strip the leaves off these plants until they’re down to bare stalks.
Testing wood pigeon deterrents
So the Which? Gardening team wanted to see what methods were best to keep wood pigeons off your veg crops. In September 2014 they planted 1,000 square metres of spring cabbage at our trial site in Gloucestershire, which has an established population of wood pigeons. They covered the plot with horticultural fleece until the young plants were well established.
After five weeks they removed the fleece and placed a different deterrent in eight separate 40-square-metre plots of spring cabbage. Each plot was separated by at least six metres. Two of the deterrents were a kite and sonic scarer, which were separated by at least 50 metres from the nearest other sites to prevent any interference between them. Two plots with no deterrent on them were left as control sites.
They then recorded the amount of damage by birds on each plot three times a week until, after 16 days, 95% of the control plots had been destroyed.
I’m afraid I’m going to leave the results a mystery (Which? Gardening readers can see the results in the November 2015 issue), but let’s just say that the owl figure with a rotating head was about as scary to pigeons as a mouse would be to a cat. Which is shame considering we have owl figures placed atop the roofs of Which? HQ. Perhaps city pigeons are more easily intimidated.
Do you think wood pigeons are a nuisance? What do they like to eat in your garden? Do you have any special methods or products to keep them off your brassicas?