Enemy #1 – The American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

American Robin

As a child I was a very avid birdwatcher – imagine the passion I now have for vermicomposting, but focused on birds instead. I was sure I was going to become an ornithologist when I grew up.

It’s funny remembering back to those days, because this year I have officially declared war against the birds – ok, maybe not ALL the birds. Just the ones that threaten the well-being of my outdoor worm population. The American Robin is leading the way in that department.

As I wrote yesterday, I’ve expanded my vermicomposting trench systems. Needless to say, when I first started seeing Robins out in my trenches gobbling worms like crazy I was NOT impressed!

Apparently these birds are supposed to be territorial, with only one bird dominating a given area. Well, I guess the worm buffet bonanza my trenches offer these retched avian marauders has led to a new set of rules being established – I’ve seen multiple Robins in my trenches at once, with no signs of aggression towards one another whatsoever.

Along with the new set of Robin rules has come a new set of rules for yours truly!
{insert evil grin}

I’ve been starting to feel like Elmer Fudd fending off ‘wascally wobbins’ in my yard, but thankfully I haven’t resorted to any form of violence…yet. Well, ok – I have been throwing tennis balls at them, but never really at them – just in close proximity to them.

There’s been one bird in particular that’s got an unbelievable amount of nerve – or stupidity, depending on your perspective. Judging by his lack-luster coloration, I’d say he is a yearling (born last spring) – this would also help to explain why he seems to have a death wish.

I’ve literally run after this bird yelling with fists-a-shakin, only to have him fly a few feet off and continue on his merry worm-picking way. If my property wasn’t so exposed (I’m sure my neighbors already think I’m a complete nut)…well, you can let your imagination go wild on that one.

Ok, I’m mostly kidding – these birds have been driving me bonkers, but I’ve actually been having some good success keeping them away. The ‘tennis ball method’ has worked quite well, but thankfully I seem to have hit upon some passive methods that are even more effective!

I noticed my neighbor had laid down shiny silver and red tape over rows of new seedlings. Doing a bit of research online, I discovered that this is a strategy for keeping birds out of your garden (apparently the red flashing reminds the birds of fire, which they are instinctively afraid of). After learning the cost of said tape (I’ll keep my arm and leg, thanks very much), I decided to make my own version.

I made some scarecrows using shiny aluminum pie trays hanging from upright supports. It is quite breezy around here, so my hope was that the flashing and banging of the trays to help to scare the birds away. This method seemed to work quite well – my tennis balls were starting to feel neglected.

It certainly hasn’t been fool-proof though. Once birds get used to these sorts of deterrents, they’ll often simply start ignoring them. On calm days when the trays aren’t banging around as much the birds also seem to feel more at ease and back to their usual worm-eating ways.

The real turning point came after I noticed that the robins weren’t picking at my sandbox trench once straw was added over top – the same was true for one of my other straw-covered trenches.


I recently added straw to my main trench as well and I’m happy to report that the results have been fantastic! I think it has something to do with the birds feeling uncertain about their footing while walking on the straw. Interestingly enough, when I had a thick layer of grass clippings on the windrow, Robins were on it like white on rice. Where do Robins normally hang out and feel safe?

The lawn, of course!

Anyway, now that my trenches seem to be completely devoid of Robins I almost feel like something is missing. haha!

I guess I kinda enjoyed the challenge of trying to outsmart them. Oh well, on the plus side, it is certainly nice not having to worry about my worm population being gobbled every time I leave the garden unattended!

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  1. Bentley,
    uh, well, we put a bird bath and feeder in the front yard away from the garden. And when Letty pulls weeds in the morning she finds some worms to throw in the feeder. “Can’t beat ’em, feed ’em”.

  2. Just to say that I enjoy your posts and sense of humor on worm composting. I just started my first worm bin with about one pound of red wrigglers about two months ago and had to split them into two bins recently, not because of the increase number of worms, but rather the amount of food for them. I hear that euros are bigger but slower in reproducing and also eat less. Is that correct?

  3. I used landscape fabric over my test trench. It allows just a little bit of light and all moisture in, but rascally robins will have (should have) trouble getting in. I also made some bin covers with 1×3’s and the same fabric. My main reason wasn’t to keep birds out, but to keep bug and fly populations as low as possible.

    • jim144
    • June 17, 2009

    I have a trick that I use for my garden, that may prove to help you out conciderably in critter deterent department. I put a post at either end of the garden (ok several). then I string twine from one end to the other. then i tie differing lengths of string/twine from the end to end one, at irregular intervals. at the end of those lengths of string, i hang an old CD (I work in IT, and there are lots of old software CDs laying about). The wind will kake them revolove and the sun will reflect off of them. This will create an environment that make the critters too uneasy to stick around (they think that a hawk or something is coming from above).

    It works well for me. I am able to keep the critters outta my garden, and am able to ‘recycle’ the CDs into something useful.

  4. Bentley,
    I always enjoy your posts and this one was hysterical! I am planning to put a worm tower in my garden and I may need your posted advice. We’ve got plenty of robins around here.

    • Bentley
    • June 18, 2009

    MARK – sounds like a good approach!
    SON – I’m not sure about eating less, but yeah Euros are definitely larger and generally don’t increase in number (and mature) as quickly as Red Worms.
    AL – another great idea. Thanks for sharing.
    JIM – going to sound like a broken record…uhhh…CD here (haha) but that is yet another great idea.
    CASSANDRA – thanks for the kind words. The ‘Worm Tower’ type of system is a great way to avoid these sorts of issues with birds, although you may need to set up a bunch of them to deliver the same fertilizing power as the vermi-trench provides.

    • Carrie
    • August 1, 2010

    As for Robins usually if you are seeing them in multiples they are a mother and her clutch of babies.
    In former gardens I depended on the robins to keep the bugs down, in fact I would often dig the slugs and grubs out toss them over my shoulder to a plate or plastic sheet. One day I found that I had a whole slew of robins fighting for them and after that they would show up if I worked in the garden.

    Another option for keeping them out is poultry netting. It is soft and usually can be purchased in various colors to keep its visibility low. I had to do this as robins also love strawberries.

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