Bully Birds, the Unexpected Garden Guests

I finally have the garden I've always dreamed of---and a few guests I didn't invite. Any tips for getting unwanted birds to fly the coop?

After years of backyard garden envy, my family and I can finally look out our back door at an-almost complete park-like setting of paths, flowering plants, vibrant vines clinging to the fence, a somewhat edible vegetable garden, and my favorite---a bird feeder.

There's nothing as simple yet satisfying as having small birds visit regularly after years of ignoring your property's existence. I even have a laminated "guide to Bay Area birds" near my window to help identify the little guys as they swoop in for some seed.  Even my cats, whom I feared would scare them off, have become lazy bird watchers themselves.

But as summer eases on, a new crop of winged warriors has arrived and taken control of the bird feeder, bird bath, and every tree top and fence post within sight of my little oasis. They are loud, obnoxious, and although absolutely gorgeous to look at, incredibly mean--they scare all the other birds, and even the squirrels away. (I can't help but wonder if the creators of the Angry Birds phone had a few of these monsters in mind when they designed those menacing animated faces.)

A bit of research, (thanks AllAboutBirds.org!) tells me these are Western Scrub Jays and probably Stellar's Jays---both characterized by their brilliant blue feathers and "assertive, vocal, and inquisitive" behaviors as well as their patrol posts set up high in trees, wires or posts waiting to swoop down into backyards, where they are quick to spy bird feeders as well as unattended picnic items. Ah ha!

Although these jays deserve as happy an insistence as the other birds, I don't want them in my yard. They are the bullies of the bird world and have scared off all the other Disney-like critters who have been stopping by. Plus, they are ravenous. I filled the feeder to the brim on Friday morning---it's more than half gone by Sunday, and don't blame the squirrels.

So what do I do to protect the little guys who really do rely on my feeder for sustenance and my cypress trees for resting? Shooing the jays away vocally is getting me nowhere, and throwing things seems cruel. (My son suggested a slingshot.) And Nellie, the dog, just sleeps through their squawking visits. Do I just wait for them to tire of my Target-brand bird seed and hope they'll find some more interesting chow elsewhere? Or do I just learn to peacefully coexist with these blue bombers?

I'm open to suggestions from you bird-lovers out there. And in the meantime I'll have my garden hose poised in just such a way....

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Heather August 30, 2012 at 03:27 AM
These jays love peanuts in a shell. I combine bird seed with peanuts and let the birds coexist in my yard but maybe a separate feeder with peanuts in a different area of your yard will work. Squirrels like the nuts too. GOOD LUCK!!
Harry E. Smith August 30, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Using an excluder-type bird feeder that only allows the smaller birds access can work, along with avoiding the larger size feed that has peanuts, or even sunflower seeds that the jays like best. They rarely want to work for the smaller seeds that are hard to pick up and fill up on. If you can't find an excluder system, SPREADING smaller seeds over an area will bring plenty of the birds you enjoy, and not be a visual target for the jays like a bowl, bath, or feeder would be.
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