While several devices are available to repel or trap starlings and sparrows in the orchard and vineyard, growers can also help their overall bird control efforts by eliminating those near buildings.
The European starling and house or English sparrows were introduced into the United States and are not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. In some areas, the flying menaces have become the scourge of growers, causing the loss of millions of dollars in damaged fruit. Both species have learned to associate food with humans, and they boldly hang around farms and homes, building nests, eating from bird feeders, and overtaking nests of more timid, but beneficial birds, like bluebirds and swallows.

Farmers contribute to the starling and sparrow problem by tolerating the birds and allowing them to infest farm buildings, said Mike Omeg, cherry grower from The Dalles, Oregon. He began trapping the unwanted birds near his operation’s own out buildings last year, using both a small, portable trap and a trap attached to his shop.

The portable trap, patented by Blaine Johnson, is called a sparrow repeater trap. Omeg ordered it from the Internet (www.sparrowtraps.net) for about $50. The trap caught eight unwanted sparrows the first day he used it.

“I’ve caught dozens of starlings and sparrows from it,” he said, adding that his mother, Linda Omeg, uses the trap when she sees sparrows moving into her backyard bird feeders (Linda Omeg is pictured on table of contents, page 4).

John Schuster of Wild Wing Company built the trap that the Omegs use attached to their shop. The trap, which resembles a cavity nest, sits up high on the side of the building. A false floor in the box drops the bird into a dark holding area, and the bird follows a skylight to a tube, dropping it alive, but secured inside the tube, to ground level.

Good birds

Omeg notes that they put the trap on the corner of the building with lots of foot traffic so that they can easily see when a bird has been caught. “If it’s a good bird, we want to free it quickly.”

Schuster said that while he has installed such traps in orchards, they get more results when placed near buildings. Good birds are freed by opening the bottom of the wire-meshed tube. Schuster uses a piece of rubber hose to hit the heads of starlings and sparrows as they stick their heads outside the wire, and then disposes of the dead birds.

The trap should be taken down or the hole plugged if people are not going to be around to check the live catch and release any protected birds. “You don’t want to just open the bottom hatch, or you will now have educated starlings,” he said.

Starlings are weakest during winter months when feed is not as plentiful and can be easily trapped then, but trapping can be done all year long, he notes.

He has had success in catching birds in the sparrow repeater trap using peanut butter and cracked corn, squeezed into a ball like pemmican. Birds are also enticed when they see a nest inside or other live birds left as decoys.