It is horrifying to see birds hanging lifeless in nets, hopelessly tangled in the flimsy plastic fabric. Many gardeners use bird netting to protect their plants, but unfortunately, most bird netting available to protect your vegetables and berries is deathtraps and should never be used in the garden. Thankfully, there are bird-friendly options out there that will keep both your garden and the birds safe.
As a general rule, there are only two types of netting that are safe for birds: soft netting, whose holes are smaller than your finger, OR netting that is stiff so birds cannot get tangled in it.
Let’s look at what makes netting safe for birds and eight great nets you can use in your garden.
Why the Right Net Is Important
Most bird netting that you can buy is made of flexible plastic with large holes, and this is very dangerous to wildlife. Birds, and other animals, will attempt to get through the holes and get tangled in the net. Broken wings, injured legs, lacerated skin, and strangulation are common results. Even if the birds do not receive physical injuries, the stress of being caught (even for a short time) can prove fatal.
To keep birds from tangling, choose a netting where:
- The holes on the netting are at most 5mm by 5mm.
- The netting is stiff so the birds cannot get tangled.
The Finger Test
If you can stick your finger through the holes of the net, DO NOT use it.
Advantages of Bird-Safe Netting
Besides keeping birds safe, there are a number of other advantages to choosing bird-friendly netting:
- Long lasting. Good quality bird-safe netting will last a long time.
- Increased biodiversity. A healthy garden will be full of birds, and we should do what we can to attract them. With the wrong netting, however, it is cruel to lure them into a fatal trap.
- Better for the environment: Most bird nets are made of non-recyclable plastic, but proper nets can be used year after year. Flimsy bird nets tear very easily, and the non-decomposable plastic clogs landfills and can pose a risk to even more animals.
- Protects more than birds. Safe netting protects all animals, not just birds. Bats, lizards, snakes, possums, and other animals will also get tangled in poor-quality netting.
Disadvantages of Bird-Friendly Netting
Unfortunately, there are a few downsides to nets that are safe for the birds:
- Costly. Good quality, wildlife-safe nets can be quite expensive, depending on the source.
- Difficult to find. Most stores sell netting that is not safe to use in the garden, so you might have to really search for the right stuff (and very likely order it online).
In many places in Australia, it is illegal to use netting with holes larger than 5mm which is why many wildlife-friendly bird nets are made Down Under. Two companies to check out are Polygro and Bunnings, but they are thankfully starting to become more readily available around the world.
8 Bird-Friendly Nets for Your Garden
In our opinion, the disadvantages do not outweigh the benefits. We went several years where the birds ate our berries before we found a good and safe netting. Now our berries are well protected, and the birds thrive in our garden.
Here are some of the best garden nets that are safe for birds and wildlife:
1. Roll Netting
Many bird-friendly nets come in long rolls that can be conveniently rolled over and around your berries. They will come in various heights and lengths, though a common size is around 10m by 10m (33×33 feet).
Many manufacturers sell netting in rolls but remember that it must pass the “finger test” for it to be safe for birds and other wildlife! Also, make sure to stake down the edges so the net stays taut, as birds are more likely to tangle when the net is loose and floppy.
If you have a very large section that you want to cover, consider buying orchard net which comes in very large rolls that are usually made-to-order for your particular operation.
2. Tree Bags
If you only have a tree or two, consider wrapping the entire tree in a large mesh bag. The advantages of wrapping each tree or bush individually are:
- Great flexibility in where you can plant.
- Time when you put on the mesh depending on the pollination and harvest requirements of different plants.
- Don’t have to deal with bulky nets and cages over your whole garden.
Fruit Saver has some really great ones, plus they also make a variety of other bird-friendly netting.
3. Fruit Bags
Instead of covering the whole tree, why not just put a mesh bag right over the fruits on the branch? This is particularly helpful if you have a low-yielding bush or to cover spots that are hard to reach with a larger net.
Check out these fruit bags from the Aussie Gardener.
Fruit bags are very easy to make yourself. Try using an old laundry bag or even a paper bag in drier climates.
4. Heavy-Duty Safety Fence
Sometimes called “snow fence”, you will often see safety fence around construction sites or along the side of roadways. It is a sturdy plastic fence with holes around 2cm to 3cm (1 inch), but the birds will not get tangled because the plastic is very stiff.
While it usually comes in a very striking orange, you can sometimes get it in green, and it is readily available from hardware stores such as this one from Home Depot. It usually comes in rolls that are either 50ft or 100ft long and 4 feet tall, and it works very well on cages or frames.
5. Elk Fence
Real elk fence is similar to safety fence, but it is 1.8m to 2.2m (6-8 feet) tall. Again, the holes do not pass the finger test, but the stiff plastic is very safe for birds.
You have to be careful when purchasing elk fence because a lot of products labeled such are very flimsy and extremely dangerous for wildlife. Make sure you get the real stuff like this one here. You can sometimes get it free from your local Fish and Wildlife office.
This is what we use on our teepee-style frames around our berry bushes and it works great.
6. Poultry Netting
More commonly called chicken wire, poultry netting is made from flexible metal wire and is very easy to work with. It is also readily available from garden centres, lumber yards, and hardware stores. We recommend the 1-inch openings as this will keep out most birds, and it comes in a variety of heights and lengths to fit whatever project you are working on.
Again, poultry netting doesn’t pass the finger test, but it is stiff and very safe for birds.
7. Insect Netting
Insect netting is used to keep insects from infecting crops, but it also keeps out the birds. Sometimes called floating row cover at garden centres, it comes in different sizes depending on your needs.
Remember, this netting will stop pollinators from reaching your flowers, so timing is important when you put it up.
8. Hail Protection Netting
Hail netting is used to protect solar farms, orchards, car sales lots from the devastation of hail storms, and it will also protect your bushes and trees from birds. Plus, you get the added bonus of hail protection which can also be very damaging to your crops.
Birds and the Garden
Birds are a sign of health and biodiversity, and we love having them in our garden. But it is quite frustrating when they eat all of our berries and peck holes in the apples. We have tried many different kinds of bird repellents, but putting up a solid bird-friendly net is the best way to protect valuable crops and still be able to enjoy the pleasure of bird song while you weed.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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