The birds are back.

Every summer, a flock of small birds attacks the plum and apricot trees in my backyard. Armed with their sharp eyes and pointy beaks, they fly into the trees, peck at the not-quite-ripe fruits and then fly off satisfied with their oh-so-destructive little meals.

After five years of shooing them off, I decided to try to outsmart them with a secret weapon: a plastic owl, which I picked up at a local warehouse store for about $14.

This plastic owl is a marvel to behold. It’s 15 inches tall. It has a painted-on face and feathers and yellow glass eyes that flash in the sunlight like those of some evil characters on a popular sci-fi show. To be fair, the plastic owl looks absolutely nothing like a real owl, which has a majesty and presence in the night sky that simply can’t be matched by a mere plastic replica. But then again, the plastic version isn’t a true predator: It only has to fool a bunch of birds, and we all know how small birds’ brains are.

I attached a piece of kite string to the top of the plastic owl and hung it in the lower branches of the apricot tree late one evening. Would the owl work as advertised? I wondered. Or would the birds ignore the damn thing and go about their pecking and nibbling business as usual?

The next morning, the owl was still securely in position. There was an ocean breeze in my backyard, as there often is, and the owl swayed and spun in the branches as if it were ready to take flight. But of course, it went nowhere.

The birds turned up right on schedule. They hopped across the grass and a few of them flew into the apricot tree only to be frightened off by the scare-owl. They appeared to be genuinely afraid of it, and their purpose clearly was thwarted by its presence.

News reports and online chatter suggest that these plastic scare-owls can work quite well for a while, but that sooner or later, even stupid birds get wise to the fact that the owl is a fake. After that, the homeowner must strategically move the owl from location to location so the small-brained birds (and worse yet, squirrels) will think that the same owl is actually a new predator. I’ve kept the scissors and the kite string handy for just this purpose. …CONTINUED

The fake owl isn’t just an effective bird-scare device. It’s also a curiously perverted metaphor in that it might have represented the incursion of the built world into the natural one were it not a plastic representation of the very nature it’s supposed to ward off. Is it unfair, I wondered, perhaps even cruel, to frighten off tiny birds with a fearsome predator even if the threat is only in their own tiny imaginations? After all, birds are the natural inhabitants of the area that I think of as my backyard, and they’re the natural consumers of the plums and apricots that I think of as mine since I pay the mortgage on this property and thus more or less own the trees.

Homeowners, I’m sure, can relate to my experience since owning a home often entails an ongoing battle between the "owner" and a variety of animals that respect neither property boundaries nor public title records. Squirrels, skunks, gophers, raccoons, rats, wasps, bees and plenty of other critters can be found in backyards throughout the country, and they can be quite a menace — from the homeowner’s point of view, of course.

Those reservations aside, I have to say I’m quite pleased with the effectiveness of my plastic scare-owl as a way to ban the birds from my fruit trees. The only negative so far has been the initial outlay of $14, which would have bought a lot of plums and apricots at the supermarket.

That and the huge crop, which means I must once again beg my friends and neighbors to take away big brown paper bags of fruit. It’s just not that easy to dispose of several hundred plums and apricots in a matter of a week or so.

Fruit salad, anyone?

Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate Web sites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.


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