birds in my mulch

pittsburgh1328May 14, 2007

Help! I have birds constantly in my mulch beds "kicking up" mulch everywhere. Is there anything I can do to get the birds out of my beds. The minute that I rake it all back in place they start all over again. I think it is mostly robins making all the mess.

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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

I suspect you are using those large chunks of bark. The birds flip them over looking for worms and such. Use something like shredded bark and they will be neater about the search...
And I might add that gardening is more about what is planted than mulch...although I think a good layer of wood mulch keeps weeds down, retains moisture around the roots of plants. Put some plants in the "mulch beds" and you won't nitice the birds re arranging it so much.
Linda C

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 10:21AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Pittsburgh, Linda is right. There isn't much you can do to keep the robins and other insect eaters out of your mulched beds. That layer of mulch provides a great environment for earthworms. Robins figure that out, right away!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 12:03PM
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Thank you lindac in Iowa...I do use shredded mulch and I do have lots of plants in my beds. These birds are driving me insane with their scavenging. Is their anything out there that might deter the birds from ravaging through my mulch?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 10:50PM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

Feed and water them. And give them thanks for eating bugs and critters that would otherwise be eating your plants.

I'm serious. Set up a birdbath and a feeder or two in an out-of-the-way area [although most people like to be able to watch the birds from a convenient window]. OG's have long known that the occasional peck on fresh fruit is nothing compared to damage done by insects in a garden without birds. If your mulch is about 3" deep, you will likely have less problem with them digging in it.

Actually, I'm wondering what is in your mulch that is so exceptionally attractive to them -- if you are using a commercial mulch, I suspect the birds are finding and eating insects that came with it. Also, remember that it is spring, and many of the birds have nestlings to feed. Providing them with a bit of extra on a feeder will be welcome.

If you are absolutely desperate to keep the birds away from the beds, the only effective deterrant is to cover the beds from edge to edge with netting. There are nettings specifically designed for the job which are almost invisible from a few feet away. I use net over strawberries and blueberries and have found it a good protection as long as it is propped away from the plant and fastened snug to the ground. The thin black strands are almost invisible. Link is to the type I use, not a recommendation for the supplier.

Here is a link that might be useful: bird netting

    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 7:07AM
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triciae(Zone 7 Coastal SE CT)

We mulch with 50/50 composted manure & leaf mould. It's always loaded with earthworms. The robins think they've died & gone to robin nirvana! Every day, they flip the mulch away & I sweep it They are brazen things...will come right up to my feet & start flipping the mulch.

Since we're a Certified Wildlife Refuge it's sorta hard to complain. :) Actually, I find it rather cute & fun to watch. I talk to the robins as they're tossing my carefully placed mulch all over the place!

Please don't do anything that will hurt the birds that visit your garden. You will be sorry if you don't have the birds around because you'll have lots more bugs that damage your plants.


    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 8:59AM
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robins don't nest in the garden bed, they are just looking for food, eating bugs. nothing you can do, while it can be a little annoying - i have a squarrel that live in the yard and digs everywhere. you can't really blame them for they do not know what they are doing is wrong or annoying. they don't understand the joy of looking at a cleanly laid mulch or undisturbed garden bed . it's not their fault. i hope you can be sort of accept it and make peace with it. i wish i can live without that squarell in the yard, but what can i do.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2007 at 12:03PM
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Thank you all for your great advice on my bird problem. They are definitely persistant. I would NEVER do anything to harm "my" birds--(I collectively refer to them as "my" birds since they are definitely here to stay.) I will set up some feeders and bird baths to make them happy.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2007 at 8:09PM
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Feeders don't work for robins...I have 4 and they don't give a flip about bird seed. Robins also don't eat anything but worms...and I'd rather have the worms in my bed, enriching the soil, than in the robins' stomachs. I feel your pain...I have recently planted many new annuals and shrubs which do not need to be disturbed by anything while they are trying to grow--and the robins are wreaking havoc by uncovering the mulch around their roots every d*&% day. Out of desperation, I took screen mesh and cut a square to surround each new plant. I put mulch under the screening material around the base of each plant so that the robins couldn't get to it, then I covered the edges of it with mulch so that it is barely visible to the eye. It's working--the robins are taking stabs at it, but can't find hoo. There are plenty of other yards for them to play in--they don't need mine. And as for the squirrels--try dog poop. Plant it around your shrubs/annuals/perennials--they hate it.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2007 at 11:39PM
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meldy_nva(z6b VA)

Robins eat a variety of foods, especially berries and bugs. If you use a telescope to help see what they are eating, you'll find it's mostly NOT worms. However, worms and cutworms are fed to their fledglings. Any bird that *likes* cutworms, sowbugs, and mealyworms is welcome to my garden!

Here is a link that might be useful: About Robins

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 7:11AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Holy cow, you should see the Robins at work all day long in my perennial beds! Not only worms, but all kinds of crawling and flying insects. There are MORE than enough worms, as far as I am concerned, lol!

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 8:47AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

I think the question to be asked here is do you farm plants or have a garden?
A garden is a place where all the things that live there are welcomed and enjoyed ( but for slugs! However, the toads that eat them are fun!). I know someone who used to grow the most wonderful roses. They were perfect in every way, but planted in rows and surrounded by 3 foot tall chicken wire so the rabbits wouldn't nibble on the shoots. His garden was not a joy to experience. Another person I knew had a perfect garden. His wife was not allowed to plant even 2 tomatoes as they were rangy and ugly and even the few herbs had to be carefully trimmed and pruned. His garden was lovely but not relaxing as he was always kicking at a bit of mulch that has been flipped onto the brick and snipping at a wilted bloom. And chemicals? Hoo Boy! you could hardly smell the roses for the captan!
If laying screen wire under the mulch makes you happy, go for it! But if the mulch being disturbed exposed the roots of your newly planted annuals and shrubs, you didn't plant them properly, and I will guarantee that a garden without robins searching for tasty bugs and squirrels eating your acorns and weed seeds is indeed a sterile place.
Try mulching with something more easily degradable like fine bark chips and the robins can scratch all day and and you won't even notice.
By the way, the first gardener has Alzheimer's and can't remember how to garden and the second had Parkinson's and died of Legionairres disease a year ago. I can't help but think that all the chemicals somehow contributed.
Linda C

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 10:38AM
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I do have wildlife in my garden, thank you very much. I just had a Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal who raised a baby in my roses...and I do know how to plant--again, thank you very much. The implication that I am incompetent and not a nature lover is unwarranted and inaccurate, as is the implication that any gardener who doesn't like having his or her new plants/mulch beds disturbed by birds is not a 'nature lover'. She has a legitimate concern and asked for assistance. She was told to just live with it, that it's a part of gardening. It is not a part any of us has to live with--sorry to disagree with the majority.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2007 at 12:18PM
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triciae(Zone 7 Coastal SE CT)


The American Robin is a harbinger of spring to many of us. Their songs are the most recognized by Americans, also. They eat many of the bugs that would damage your roses. Robins also eat berries which is their primary winter food. And yes, they do eat earthworms as well.

Except for the PNW & southeast, did you realize that earthworms are an exotic, invasive species in America & that they are harming many of our country's native forests? Here's a link from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources....

Here's info from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden...

"Charles Darwin was an earthworm freak. He spent more than 40 years, on and off, observing, experimenting on, and thinking about these artful annelids. It got a little weird sometimes, like when he had his son play the bassoon to an audience of worms in the billiard room.

Darwin published his findings in a slim volume entitled The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms with Observations on their Habits (1881). In it, he outlined the monumental importance of earthworms to the development of soilsdescribing how they help plow, aerate, hydrate, and fertilize the earth. "They mingle the whole intimately together," he wrote, "like a gardener who prepares fine soil for his choicest plants."

Darwin's "vermiphilia" lives on today in the hearts of gardeners and farmers who embrace a biologically integrated approach to plant cultivation. But, regrettably, his idea that all earthworms are fundamentally beneficial is a bust. Some species, when placed in the wrong context, can become outright pests.

Indeed, a number of nonnative earthworm species have established themselves in North America and been implicated in a range of undesirable activities, including the extirpation of at least one rare plant species. Gardeners need to pay special attention, as they have been identified as one possible source of introduction for some of these troublesome interlopers.

American Natives
In Darwin's defense, he was aware that earthworm activity could cause problemsÂsuch as soil erosion due to washed-away castings. Moreover, his study was limited to mainly pastoral lands in England and probably to a narrow range of earthworm species.

There are, however, thousands of earthworm species worldwide, adapted to many different environments. North America has roughly 100 native species. While this doesn't seem like a mind-blowing number, it's pretty impressive when you consider that Pleistocene glaciation killed most worm species in the northern half of the continent.

Because earthworms are extremely slow moving, colonization of the formerly frozen areas has been negligible. Our native earthworm fauna is still confined mostly to the Southeast and Pacific Northwest.

Foreign Arrivals
Since Colonial times, though, about 45 exotic earthworm species have made a home for themselves in North America. These include hardy European and Asian species that can survive the cold, unforgiving winters of our higher latitudes, many of them introduced through the importation of potted plant material for horticulture and land management. Today, there are strict laws prohibiting soil imports, but exotic earthworms are still gaining access to the country via the vermiculture industry, which imports worms for fish bait, bioremediation, and composting. (See "What's In My Worm Bin?")

Exotic earthworm populations are now established in many of our urban, suburban, and agricultural soils. They've also managed to hunker down in wild areasÂthanks in large part to the misguided dumping of bait by fishermen. And this is the crux of the problem: the addition of worms to forests and grasslands that have evolved for millennia without them.

The Diet of Worms
Hardwood forests in the North are being hardest hit by the pest-earthworm invasions. The most immediate threat is from "epigeic" earthworms, which inhabit and feed on leaf litter on the soil's surface.

In healthy, undisturbed forests, a rich layer of litter covers the forest floor and is held together by webs of fungal filaments. The fungi, along with other decomposers, slowly break down the litter and release nutrients to forest plantsÂthe key word here being "slowly." Soil pH is low, and the native plants are generally adapted to acidic conditions. The leaf litter is not just a nutrient bank; it's the medium in which forest plant seeds germinate. It also acts as a mulch, insulating the soil and protecting plants from disease and competition with weeds. In addition, it provides habitat for many small forest animals.

Invading earthworms feed voraciously on the leaf litter, breaking it down too fast and flooding the soil with nutrients, especially nitrogen. (Much of this valuable stored nitrogen may eventually be lost via runoff.) Some worm species can also neutralize the soil pH with special calciferous glands to create a more favorable environment for themselves. Both actions dramatically change the soil chemistry in the forest and interfere with plant growth. Also, as the leaf litter is consumed, bare patches appear on the forest floor, making it vulnerable to erosion and to invasion by nitrogen-craving weed plants. Leaf-litter animals are deprived of their habitat. If burrowing worms are present, a harmful mixing of soil strata can occur."

So, to thwart robins & encourage earthworms seems a bit misguided, IMO. At least consider allowing the robins to eat the earthworms that you have allowed to enter your garden.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2007 at 8:15AM
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I posted this very same 'post'...and yes whilst I love wildlife....these blackbirds (UK) - not robins have absolutely destroyed my new lawn....they must have a party when I am not looking....they kick so much mulch on my new lawn....that it is now speckled with dead patches where I can't pick all the flippin bits out of the is a daily chore trying to save my lawn...surely there must be away of allowing the birds to eat the bugs WITHOUT the mess?...can they peck through the mesh and not flick it>

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 6:34AM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

If you have persistant birds digging in your lawn, it's because of grubs. They are digging to get the grubs which are eating the roots of your plants. Without the birds digging in your grass you will have patches of dead from the grubs eating the roots.
Linda c

    Bookmark   July 16, 2008 at 9:45AM
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jonijumpup(z5, GR MI)

my guess is that whenever you have some disturbed soil, whether due to new plants, or repaired lawn, or a garden area freshly covered with mulch, the birds and mammals can sense the fresh earth and start to dig (makes it difficult to spot seed bare patches in the lawn

    Bookmark   September 24, 2012 at 10:55PM
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