Finches eating fruit tree buds

Credit: iStockphoto


Q: I live in Ladysmith, BC and have four mature fruit trees. Three of the trees (Asian pear, Burbank plum and much grafted pear tree) are doing reasonably well.

The fourth tree is a Gravenstein apple not so well and the neighbours tell us that the tree was never really productive. As we bought the property three years ago in an estate sale, the garden was not tended for a few years. We have dutifully pruned fertilized and dormant sprayed the trees for three years to get them in to “order”. we have shooed away the sapsuckers and treated the damage. We have discouraged the earwigs from the bark. In the spring the house finches arrive and fill the garden with song and this year I noticed them sitting on the fruit tree branches (particularly the apple tree) and pick off the buds — it takes them two bites and they are diligent!

I do not want to put nets over the trees as it is a very active bird yard. Is there something I can add to the dormant oil spray that would ward the birds off without harming them? Is there a spray I can put on the trees right now that would make the buds less tasty?

The trees are in the back garden on the north side of the house and are strung out in an east-west orientation.

There is no product I am aware of that you could add to the dormant spray to ward off the finches. There is also no product you could spray on fruit trees now to make the buds less tasty.

Your options are limited to using either some kind of netting or repelling birds before it becomes a habitual problem. I believe these birds are probably used to being on these trees. For example, try using string with CDs attached to them to scare off the birds as they swing with the wind. Or something that makes a loud startling noise. Whatever method you decide to use, I would suggest you be very patient and persistent. Try different ways. Do not use the same method all the time as the finches may get used to it. The finches did not arrive overnight, so don’t expect them to leave instantly.

Additional finch deterrents from Michelle Lam, GardenWise editorial staff:

  • Repellents – As an animal lover, I prefer using non-toxic methods for getting rid of pests (and since your problem involves a fruit tree, it’s probably best to stick with non-toxic options). These repellents are also not toxic to birds, so you need not worry if you’re an animal lover like me. There are a few non-toxic-chemical bird repellents on the market, but the granular form of Capsicum (a fruits and peppers family) seems to work best. Studies have shown that Capsicum oleoresin mixed with saponin, a steroid, seems to be especially effective in repelling finches. You can find both at home and garden stores. Make sure you don’t apply too much repellent since it may become ineffective with overuse. I would also suggest applying it to all your fruit trees since the finches will probably move from one tree to another. Please read the product label carefully before applying.
  • Frightening Devices – These don’t generally work that well, but a product called Av-Alarm® and gas cannons that are relocated frequently have been known to be more effective. However, I suggest that you use this method for large areas only.
  • Finch Attractions Removal – Don’t worry… I’m not referring to finches’ tourist destinations. Items such as large bush piles, box piles, and stacks of irrigation pipes are prime resting and nesting spots for finches. Removing these items from the surrounding area would deter the birds from returning.