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Waging War Against the Wily, Blueberry-Gobbling Catbird

By Steve Fagin

Publication: theday.com

Published May 25. 2013 4:00AM

While toiling for hours the other day to fix netting over my blueberry bushes that had been damaged by last winter's heavy snowfall, I reflected once again on the exhaustive efforts one must expend simply to enjoy a few measly fruits and vegetables.

The repair was necessary because much to my chagrin, the overwhelming flurry of flakes had not fluttered gently through the plastic grid as I hoped but clung to the enclosure like cement and formed a massive, frozen roof that pulled down netting and in some places even snapped 2x4 support beams.

With bushes now beginning to flower and soon to form berries, I need the barrier in place before greedy, freeloading birds have a chance to chow down.

As I struggled on a ladder with saw, hammer, nails, wire snips and other tools, a gray catbird perched on a nearby post, its head cocked.

"Sorry, my little feathered friend. Say farewell to your meal ticket," I said, stretching a fresh length of netting over the wooden frame.

The bird flicked its tail and replied with its signature mewing call.

Working with netting is one of my least favorite jobs – the wretched material is constantly snarling and snagging, but it is effective at repelling most flying critters.

Except the wily catbird.

No sooner had I finished stapling the last section in place and begun carrying equipment back to the tool shed than I spotted the beady-eyed creature flapping happily inside – INSIDE! – my fortress.

"What the …?"

I flung open the gate and raced back inside just in time to see the bird dive and scurry back out through a skinny gap between the bottom of the netting and the ground. It then flew back to the post and mewed.

"So, you think this is a game?" I snarled. "You don't know who you're up against."

Loyal readers will recall the elaborate deer barrier I've constructed in escalating stages over the years, as well as various anti-slug devices. When it comes to gardening, I am a virtual Department of Homeland Security.

Like all my solutions to vexing invaders, the latest catbird deterrent required prodigious labor.

First, I cut 2-foot-wide strips of netting into lengths sufficient to circumnavigate the 100-foot-or-so perimeter of the blueberry bush enclosure.

Next I snipped dozens of 4-inch lengths of baling wire, which I used to attach the new netting strips to the bottom of the existing pen.

Finally, I collected hundreds of pounds of rocks from various locations near the garden and lugged them to the enclosure. I then placed them over the folded edge of the new netting, so that a catbird would have to dig beneath the heavy weight and risk getting crushed if it tried to penetrate.

I check the barrier each day when I visit the garden to water and weed. So far it seems to be holding – but the proof will be when the berries ripen in a month or so, and kamikaze-like birds may not be able to resist such sweet, plump enticements.

If and when that happens I'll have to come up with a more aggressive strategy – but I hope for my sake and the birds' it doesn't come to that. Actually, that's a hollow threat – I don't trap, poison or shoot anything.

As is the case with all the produce I grow – this year, tomatoes, peppers, brussel sprouts, chard, spinach, beans, peas, garlic, onions and shallots – I'd be happy to designate a portion of my blueberries to woodland visitors if they only left the rest for me. But the problem with deer, slugs and birds is you can't negotiate with them. It's all or nothing.

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