Saturday, August 05, 2006

Creating a bird-friendly garden

The keys are shelter, proper food, and water

Abby and Ken Crouch adore wild birds, so when they bought a 1/3-acre lot in Portland a few years ago, they resolved to make it a bird sanctuary par excellence. They accomplished this by designing a landscape with bird-friendly plants, well-stocked feeders, and a constant water source. The garden now draws dozens of species of birds, from hummingbirds to flickers.

Plants for the birds

Trees, shrubs, perennials, and vines provide nesting space, seasonal food, and safe haven from predators. In the Crouches' garden, large evergreens, English boxwoods, and deciduous plants conceal many nests and provide cover from enemies.

Mountain ashes, crabapple trees, and a pear tree provide fruit in season, while trumpet vines and such flowering perennials as penstemon and sage supply nectar that sustains hummingbirds.

When trees die, the Crouches leave them standing so that birds such as flickers and chickadees can feed on the insects that invade the dead wood. Dead branches also make perfect perches for resting birds and are good places to hang feeders.

Food and feeders

Because different birds eat different foods, the Crouches put out several types of feed.

BLACK OIL SUNFLOWER and niger thistle seeds bring in seed-eaters such as evening grosbeaks, goldfinches, house finches, pine siskins, purple finches, scrub jays, and Steller's jays. The Crouches fill hanging tubular feeders with these seeds.

MILLET, favored by rufous-sided towhees and white- and golden-crowned sparrows, is scattered on an elevated platform feeder.

SUET draws insect-eaters such as chickadees, flickers, jays, and nut-hatches.

SUGAR WATER is the beverage of choice for hummingbirds. Mix a solution of 1 part white granulated sugar (sucrose) with 4 parts water. Bring the solution to a boil, then let it cool before filling the feeder. Change the solution every two to three days in summer, washing the feeder out with hot water between fillings.


The Crouches installed a ready-made bubbling pool. It's used by most of the birds, which bathe in the water all year long. However, the main job of the pool is to slake birds' thirst, not only on hot summer days but also in winter when natural sources of water may freeze solid. The water in the Crouches' pool circulates constantly so it freezes only around the edges.

Scientists blame cats for decline of sparrows

SO AFTER all, it could have been the cat. Years of research have confirmed that the domestic feline is a prime suspect in the disappearance of the house sparrow from Britain's gardens, parks and suburban hedgerows.

After one of the biggest ornithological exercises on record, scientists believe they are only five years from identifying the definitive cause of the huge drop in the sparrow population.

Increased cat ownership, the resurgence of the predatory sparrowhawk, pollution, and the loss of valuable feeding grounds and nesting sites are being most actively considered as reasons in follow- up studies.

But researchers said they were highly suspicious that the decline of the house sparrow - down by 10 million compared with 30 years ago - had been accompanied by the rise of the urban cat.

Dr Humphrey Crick, the lead author of the report, which was funded by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: "It could be a combination. If the food supply gets worse the sparrows put themselves into riskier situations, and then they get caught by the cats."

The report, Investigation into the Causes of the Decline of Starlings and House Sparrows in Great Britain, published today, points to a sharp fall in survival rates among young birds in the 1970s for triggering the decline, which is most acute in towns and cities. London and Edinburgh have seen some of the worst problems.

Travel: Serious pampering, for birds and humans

The thought that I might never encounter the giant tenebrionid beetle on its native Seychelles heath was a melancholy one. Well, fairly melancholy. If sun-downing champagne in a private Jacuzzi by a palm-fringed shore had to be the alternative, then hey, I could be philosophical about it.

Nevertheless, my afternoon's expedition through the lush interior of Fregate Island had provided one of the most unforgettable interludes of my February week in the Seychelles. How often do you get an armchair view of some of the rarest birds and plants on the planet from behind the wheel of a golf buggy?

I had gone to the Seychelles to check out a revival in its tourist business. The blissed-out, five-star image of escape to these beaches and the assumption that this is where reality outshines the most unconvincing of brochure illustrations have taken something of a knock in recent years.

The opening of Lemuria on Praslin by an upmarket Mauritian company, Banyan Tree's recent arrival on Mahe and the imminent arrival on Sainte Anne of Beachcomber, however, are good news for sybarites with deep pockets. So are the facelifts given to luxury private island lodges such as Denis and Fregate. Meanwhile, a range of small guest houses and new self-catering accommodation, such as Les Villas d'Or on Praslin, are putting gorgeous beaches within wider reach.

Life may be a beach for most visitors to the Seychelles, but the new developments I saw had all, to a greater or lesser degree, built a new awareness of the environment into the experience they offer their visitors. The previously uninhabited granitic North Island, off Mahe, which opens early next year with 11 villas, is to be run by Wilderness Safaris, partly as a sanctuary for regenerating endemic species.

Eco-tourism's fashionable label is slapped on to anything from Fregate's all-out projects to save endangered species to Lemuria's triple-level extravaganza of a swimming pool, which makes theatrical use of the granite rocks heaped au naturel around its perimeter.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

`Sparrow tsar' to lead study into why 10m of our garden birds are

BRITAIN'S BIRD-LOVERS are to have a "sparrow tsar" to co-ordinate research into why the species that was once commonplace in the nation's gardens is now on the "red list" of endangered creatures.

Rosie Cleary has been appointed by the British Trust for Ornithology to lead a nationwide survey into why the sparrow population has slumped by more than 50 per cent in 30 years. In the cities it has been particularly acute, notably London where there has been a 75 per cent slump since 1994.

Ms Cleary, who has studied house sparrows on Devon's Lundy island and in Leicester, will organise a new 18-month national survey covering the 2003 and 2004 breeding seasons. "I am looking forward to operating closely with our volunteers to work out the causes of house sparrow decline," she said. "It is going to be quite a challenge, but we need to know why 10 million of our sparrows are missing. Since concern first grew there has been wide speculation about the cause but we will approach the survey with a completely open mind."

The decline in sparrows between the 1920s and 1960s has been traced to the demise of horse-drawn transport, which once provided food for for birds as a result of grain spilling from nosebags. Newer factors include pollution destroying the insects required to feed young birds in nests and modern building techniques restricting access to breeding sites in roof spaces. Domestic cats are further suspects - a Bedfordshire village study showed that up to a quarter of its breeding sparrow pairs might have been harmed by prowling felines.

Ms Cleary will be recruiting a nationwide army of volunteers to help her. Mike Toms, Garden BirdWatch team leader, explained: "It is important to find out why populations are holding up well in some parts of the country because that could help pinpoint why they have slumped elsewhere."

Bird on a Wire - impact of wireless communication systems on bird populations

In theory, a wireless world in which everyone is continuously connected to everyone else via an assortment of handheld devices seems like a dream come true. Yet even now the usual cavalcade of naysayers, spoilsports, and harbingers of doom are mustering their forces to oppose this latest face of the technological revolution that is rapidly reshaping society.

Consider the vexing issue of telephone lines. As the wireless revolution spreads, telephone lines will soon cease to be necessary and both the poles and the wires strung from them can be torn down. In their place, trees can be planted all across the heartland. On the surface, this seems like a pleasing proposition. But already environmentalists in Vermont, Oregon, and Arizona are predicting an ecological holocaust should this event come to pass.

"Telephone poles that have been in place for years in rural environments provide a semi-natural habitat for the Minoan snow crow, the runic thrush, and Pitcairn's Egret, all of which appear on current lists of endangered species," fumes Annabeth Prescott, president of PETB (People for the Ethical Treatment of Birds). "Because telephone poles, unlike trees, provide clear sight lines for birds, it is impossible for cats to sneak up on them and eat their young. When telephone poles pass from the scene, more than 5,000 species of birds will see their habitats destroyed."

This is not the only menace to the avian community posed by wireless technology. Ornithologists also predict a catastrophic disruption in migratory patterns once phone lines are dismantled.

"Birds have a terrible sense of direction," says Ray Sharkey, a professor of ornithological psychology at the University of Cairns in Australia. "When you see birds flying south in the winter, they are actually following the north-south direction of the telephone lines, which replaced easily identifiable Native American portage trails in the second half of the 19th century. Without telephone wires to direct them, Canadian geese flying south will probably end up in the Yukon."

Victim offers $2,000 reward for stolen birds

Burglars targeting the Dimond District made off this week with a pair of exotic birds after ransacking a home while the birds' owner was away for a little more than an hour.

Owner Cindy Moody, an animal lover with a sign on her door asking firefighters to rescue her pets should a fire consume her house, is pleading for the public's help to get her feathered best friends back.

"This is the worst thing someone could have done to me," Moody said. "Burn my house down without my pets in it, I don't care, but don't steal those birds."

She is offering a $2,000 reward for the return of her 18-year-old blue and gold macaw "Mikey" and "Selene," her 8-year-old double yel- low-headed Amazon parrot which is mostly green in color.

The growing problem of residential burglaries in the Dimond District is no secret to residents there. They shoot off several e- mail messages per week warning their neighbors about the latest crime.

According to Oakland's CrimeWatch Web site, burglaries in police beat 22x -- an area northeast of Interstate 580, southwest of Mountain Boulevard between Park Boulevard and Coolidge Avenues -- are up from 19 at this time last year to 43 this year.

According to a letter Lt. Eric Breshears wrote to Dimond District residents last month, residential burglaries are up "to a high rate" in the district this year, even though crime overall is down.

Moody's home was burglarized Tuesday morning at around 10 a.m. as she ran a quick errand. The math professor at City College of San Francisco came home to see a window screen tossed near her garage and a door open.

She found her bedroom ransacked -- all the clothing had been taken out of her drawers, and an emerald earring and necklace set had been stolen.

She wanted to make sure her cats were all inside when she saw her empty bird cages.

"I went into the kitchen and the birds were gone and I was screaming," she said.

Moody has been a bird lover for much of her life. At one point she bred the exotic creatures but recently settled on caring for Mikey and Selene.

"They are incredibly time-consuming," she said. For the most part, exotic birds cling to their handlers as if they were mates. They rarely warm up to strangers but are known to play, cuddle with, and love one owner.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Reigning cats and dogs

AS the plummy Penelope Keith voiceover announced at the outset that royals have always behaved eccentrically with pets, I somehow knew that The Royals and their Pets (Five) was going to be heavy- going.

Before anyone starts accusing me of some form of pet phobia, I should like to point out that I currently have two dogs, behaved with impeccable courtesy towards the mostly ginger cats my parents used to fill up their house with, and, as a very young boy, had meaningful relationships with a hamster called Katie, who might well have been a boy, and a green budgie called Jim, who was quite possibly a girl. It didn't matter either way. There is no problem with me as far as pets go.

Yet there was something nonheartwarming about this trawl through pampered pooches and a few other creatures. The fact that Queen Victoria had 88 pets in the course of what was admittedly a very long life left me thinking that she couldn't possibly have loved all of them, even if the whole lot had died young in freak attacks by giant birds of prey.

Then there was the reminder that Princess Anne has become a convicted felon because of the antisocial activities of her bull terriers.

I wondered if the paltry 500 fine had caused any royal rethink, and decided it most probably hadn't.

Most depressing of all was to be presented with more information than I needed about the Queen's corgis. I know for a fact that these are horrible little dogs, animals that have been trained for centuries to nip the heels and ankles of cattle and sheep. To this end, they have been provided with very short legs, and a brain/ eyesight combination which cannot differentiate between a human being and a cow.

Thus the Queen's corgis misbehave, and Her Majesty has to call upon the services of her trusty dogwhisperer to pacify these aggressive little bundles.

I was under the impression that long ago all corgis had been banished to Wales. They certainly should have been. And the fact that some unnamed royal was responsible for creating a new breed called a dorgi - half-corgi, half-dachshund, if you please - presumably means there is an even shorter dog knocking around which specialises in savaging little toes.

Meanwhile, at Sandringham, a new race of giant super-labradors is being produced, dogs which benefit a great deal from the introduction of newfoundland genes. It's as if the royal family has set itself up as a breakaway, hoodlum faction of the Kennel Club.

In Critical Condition - sad end of an exotic bird and a cat that is going the same path

The last of its kind in the wild, one blue-plumed Spix's macaw roamed its habitat in northeast Brazil in isolation. No mate, no young, no answer to its call. For 10 years.

All others of its line had long been lost to poachers profiting from illegal trade in exotic wildlife and to decades of habitat destruction. Then, recently, came the report that this final individual was gone, too. The Spix's macaw is believed now to be extinct in the wild.

The deeper tragedy is that the Spix's fate is not isolated. Species extinction looms as an awful legacy humankind will bequeath to future generations at home and abroad.

Even charismatic American wildlife such as the Florida panther, now with only 60 adults remaining in the wild, are in real danger of vanishing forever unless we act.

The report documents factors contributing to population declines for most of North America's cat species. Troubling results include the extirpation of the jaguar from the Southwest and reduction of ocelot numbers along the Texas-Mexico border to about 80 individuals.

To save North American cats, the report prescribes large doses of public education about the perils facing wild felines, along with advocacy to protect cat habitat and migratory corridors that are increasingly threatened by development and transportation plans.

Aggressive measures are needed to save other North American species as well. The black-footed ferret, once reduced to just 18 individuals, is rebounding somewhat but has only a tenuous hold on survival. Fortunately, it will get some help from NWF's progress in aiding the imperiled black-tailed prairie dog, the ferrets' principal prey, and in conserving the grassland habitat that sustains both species.

We are also pursuing the opportunity for a large-scale ferret recovery program near Janos, Mexico. With the help of Mexico's new president, Vicente Fox, it could boost the odds for ferrets, while helping U.S.- Mexican relations, too.

This emergency action to save critically endangered wildlife is a reminder of the need for vigilance, education and advocacy to conserve habitat and keep the wild alive, the mainstays of NWF's mission.

Facts of TV sports life: Strange birds and buzz

These are 23 facts, tried and true, about the widening world of sports television:

1. When Dick Vitale starts talking on ESPN, all the dogs in my neighborhood start howling in unison.

2. Shakespeare's Henry VI once said something about killing all the lawyers. But that was before "SportsCenter" anchors.

3. On most NFL Sundays, America might just be the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.

4. I almost always crack open a Rolling Rock when I'm watching women's billiards.

5. If you need one broadcaster to call one game, I'll take Vin Scully for baseball, Marv Albert for basketball and Al Michaels for football.

5a. If Scully is unavailable, Jon Miller will do.

6. For added effect, I usually watch ESPN Classic on my black-and- white TV.

7. Cats have nine lives. Brent Musburger has had 10.

8. As a rule, my spousal partners have never enjoyed Bassmaster Classic fishing as much as I do.

(Quick Story: Six weeks into my second marriage, I'm sitting there watching the Ironman Triathlon and the poor woman says to me, "Is it always going to be this way?" "For better or worse, baby," I tell her, "for better or worse." The next day I wake up, hit the remote . . . and the cable system is dead. Bad deal, man.)

9. For every minute you're watching golf, I'm watching bowling.

10. Nonetheless, David Feherty and Gary McCord can buy me a drink any day of the week.

11. I don't want to say Keith Jackson was born to call college football, but his first words were, "Whoa, Nellie!"

12. Frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if one day Fox Sports Net went topless.

13. The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings; "SportsCenter" ain't over till Stuart Scott "boo-yahs!"

14. Go figure: Several state prisons have a better premium cable package than I do.

15. Best food to accompany the NBA on TNT: Cheez-Its, with cheap red wine.

16. If your only choice on TV is an MLS game or a WNBA game, don't overlook the radio.

(My mother used to tell me not to sit too close to the TV or it would hurt my eyes. So I've always sat as far away from the TV as possible, but -- guess what? -- it still hurts my eyes.)

17. I can't even imagine what Tim McCarver would be like at a cricket match.

18. The best thing about sailing on TV? No slow-motion replays.

19. Spiritually and stylistically, there are striking similarities between the buzzing of a housefly and a Jim Gray sideline report.

20. I once TiVo-ed a dog-skills competition.

21. If Joe Theismann were paid by the word, ESPN would go belly up.

22. I canceled my colonoscopy the other day and watched "The Best Damn Sports Show Period" instead.

23. If there's an afterlife, there'd better be DirecTV.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

US raises a generation of fat cats as obesity spreads to nation's

IT IS not only humans who suffer the scourge of excess weight in our consumption saturated Western world. Our pets do too.

The evidence is in a report by the National Research Council in Washington, which says one quarter of our pets are obese: the same proportion as adults in the US with the same condition.

According to The Nutrient Requirements of Cats and Dogs, an adult dog weighing 35lbs should consume about 1,000 kilocalories a day, while the average 10lb cat needs only 275. But owners worried about their pets' erratic eating habits often go far beyond these guidelines. Fast food is becoming as big a menace to pets as to us, bringing similar risks such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

A dog, says the report, will happily eat its entire daily energy requirement in a few minutes at a single session. But cats are fussier, mainly because in the wild they dine on a dozen or so very small animals or birds a day. So feed your cat not one or two big meals every day, but a dozen tiny helpings.

But by and large, both species are uncannily like us. Given the chance of eating their fill whenever they want, between 30 and 40 per cent of them will become overweight or obese. A dog is probably overweight if you cannot feel its ribs; the well sculpted cat should have a slight waist but no roundness of tummy.

Sounds just like us - and so too do the remedies suggested by the council: smaller helpings, fewer calories and less tasty food.

Cats face tough bounce-back test


After six straight wins by an average of 33.2 points a game, Hayden girls basketball team dropped its first game of the season Friday night at home against undefeated Shawnee Heights.

And while the loss was disappointing for the Wildcats, it also probably was inevitable.

"When you look at the people we play on our schedule, going undefeated was never one of our goals," said Hayden coach Doug Finch, whose team will return to action tonight in a 6 o'clock Centennial League game at Class 6A power Washburn Rural. "Obviously, everybody would love to do that, but that's not very realistic and it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the girls.

"We went through that last year (17 straight wins to open the season) and we've tried to diffuse that a little bit this year. The whole concept for us this year is to make sure that we're doing things to get better each and every game."

Even though Hayden, now 6-1 overall and 1-1 in the Centennial League, dropped a 52-43 decision to Heights, Finch thought his team did a lot of good things against the T-Birds.

Hayden led 43-39 well into the fourth quarter before Shawnee Heights, second-ranked in 5A, scored the game's last 13 points to win going away. Three Hayden players fouled out, including the Wildcats' two NCAA Division I signees, Amanda Holmes and Kalee Silovsky.

"We went through some serious foul trouble and I had some young kids out there who really weren't Centennial League battle tested," Finch said. "With the foul trouble and everything that we experienced, I really had no complaints with our kids."

The schedule certainly doesn't get any easier for the Wildcats, beginning with tonight's road game against a second straight undefeated team --- Washburn Rural, ranked No. 3 in 6A. Bill Annan's Junior Blues are 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Centennial League after a 45-31 win over Seaman Friday night.

After facing Rural tonight, Hayden will host Emporia on Friday, then entertain Sabetha in a Saturday makeup game.

"We're looking at an NBA-type schedule," Finch said. "We don't have a lot of time to practice physically, so we've got to do it mentally."

Tonight's game will showcase the city's top two scorers --- Washburn Rural senior Sarah White and Hayden's Silovksy. White, a Nebraska signee, is averaging 19.8 points a game, while Silovksy is averaging 19.1 points. Holmes is scoring 17.4 points a game.

The truth about toxoplasmosis, cats and pregnant women

PREGNANCY is a time when women need to take extra care of their health. But that does not mean abandoning a household pet because of the fear that it will transmit diseases.

This is especially true of toxoplasmosis, a disease that can be acquired from a cat, but which can be spread in other ways and can be easily prevented.

If toxoplasmosis is transmitted to a pregnant woman, it can be passed to her unborn child, resulting in miscarriage or serious problems after birth. The disease is caused by Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that can infect many warm-blooded animals, including cats. These animals can become intermediate hosts of Toxoplasma

gondii, but cats are the main source of infectious oocysts that are passed in its feces.

The most frequent way that cats are infected with toxoplasmosis is from eating birds, mice and other small animals infected with Toxoplasma gondii. However, even indoor cats and other pets can acquire and spread toxoplasmosis by eating

infected raw and undercooked meat.

After a cat has been infected with toxoplasmosis, it will excrete potentially infectious oocysts in its feces. Cats are the only species of animal to pass this infectious stage in their stool, and then for only a two-week period. The oocysts are very hardy and can be carried by wind or water. They also require an incubation period of one to five days after excretion before they become infectious.

Because a cat typically acquires immunity to toxoplasmosis after its initial infection, it is only during this first exposure that cats usually release the oocysts in their stool. However, some women may try to avoid the chance of exposure to toxoplasmosis by surrendering their cat, but this is not a necessary step to preventing infection. By understanding the life-cycle of Toxoplasma gondii and taking a few very simple precautions, mothers-to-be and their cats can maintain their loving relationship.

It is very unlikely that a pregnant woman will contract toxoplasmosis from a cat, because transmission is not easy and the chance of infection is low. The oocysts are transmitted by ingestion; a pregnant woman would have to touch infected feces and then touch her mouth before washing her hands. Pregnant women can reduce their risk of contracting toxoplasmosis from cats by following these safety tips:

Monday, July 31, 2006

YOUR GARDEN: Q&A Pulling the birds

QI HAVE been bought a bird table for my birthday. Have you any tips to encourage birds? - Mark Strong, Winchester, Hants.

APUT it where there is cover so birds can find protection if threatened, but not so close to shrubs that cats can lurk unseen. Provide fresh water as well as food - toxin-free peanuts and high energy seed blends are best, although scraps like grated cheese and fruit are appreciated.

QWHAT can I plant on my garage wall to give some instant colour and interest throughout the year? - Helen Walsh, Northallerton, Yorks.

APYRANCATHAS are at their flaming best in autumn, with fiery red, orange or yellow berries. They have white summer flowers and evergreen leaves to provide interest in the garden all year round. Orange Glow is one of the best with loads of orange-red berries that last well in to the winter. Soleil d'Or is a good choice for yellow berries.

QI WOULD like to grow some pots of hyacinths to give friends at Christmas time. How do I go about it? - Caroline Slater, Mablethorpe, Lincs.

AYOU will need to buy specially-prepared bulbs for forcing into flower in time. You can plant several in a bowl, a pencil thickness apart with their noses just out of the soil. The pots will need to be put in a cold, dark place for about 10-12 weeks to encourage roots to form before they sprout leaves. Bring them into the light to coax them into leafy growth. Only when the buds show colour should they be brought into the house. For Christmas flowering bulbs need to be planted by the first week of October.

Goats, gunshots, dogs and birds Sean Hunter, a young white man who

WHEN I TELL people I am from East Oakland two things come to their minds; the Oakland Raiders and the ghetto. Yes, the Raiders are awesome (so are the A's) and there are some parts of East Oakland where I would not be caught dead after dark alone. It is not all like that however. My neighborhood is a prime example. At a quick glance it looks like it is in the ghetto (it's more on the edge). There are no sidewalks, every other house has a couch on the porch, a lot of people park their good "rides" on their lawn and tennis shoes hang from power lines. I've actually seen someone shot, and there is the constant howl of whistle tips.

There are many different types of people in my neighborhood: Asians, African Americans, Latinos and gays. That is what raises Oakland above many other cities, the diversity.

Every once in a while during the winter my neighborhood smells toxic. That usually means one thing, it's a Tongan Holiday and we'll be having roasted pig for lunch and dinner. A couple blocks north of my house, a plume of smoke is rising from the back yard of my Tongan neighbors. I knock on their door and my good friend Fred answers. Fred went to school with me from first grade until I switched schools in seventh. We go through the house into the back yard. Fred and his brothers have dug up the whole area into one huge pit. In the pit there is tons of wood and anything else that can burn. That is the reason for the horrendous smell. They never have enough wood to burn so things like cardboard, roof tiles and even old bed sheets are thrown in to get the fire hot enough. Lying across the pit are four 20-foot metal poles with four full grown pigs on each. I feel bad for the pigs but right before we eat there is always a Tongan prayer that expresses their respect for the animals they consume. By midday every kid has caught whiff of the shindig and ends up at Fred's for some of the best pork barbecue in Oakland.

Gardeners versus birds

Birds inspire mixed emotions in gardeners. Chubby sparrows twittering in the trees are cheery harbingers of spring--until they start snatching your flower and vegetable seedlings. Robins and jays earn some fans with their cocky personalities, but admirers melt away when the birds attack garden fruits and berries.

Is there any sure way to protect your garden bountry without harming avian invaders? We asked our readers to tell us which methods have proved effective for them and which flopped. More than 200 responded.

Plastic netting. Clear winner in the anti-bird sweepstakes is the plastic bird netting sold at nurseries and garden supply centers, though it too had its critics:

"I hope someone can find a way to net a tree, other than with a helicopter or crane, that does not produce an irate husband. And don't suggest a new husband--this one is fine except when you say bird net," wrote one gardener.

Alas, no one reported a foolproof way to get nets effortlessly over vulnerable trees such as cherries and figs, but one gardener devised a method that can reduce the frustration (see drawings at right). For a 10- to 12-foot tree, use a 13- by 25-foot net. For a 20-foot tree, you'll need two 13-by 45-foot nets. cost is $20 to $25 per net.

To simplify using the net over planting beds, many gardeners built support frames such as the PVC arches pictured above. Also popular were frames made of 1-by-2 redwood with netting stapled on. These were usually 1 to 2 feet high, about 6 feet long, and as wide as the garden rows; they can be easily lifted off for weeding and harvesting. (Shown is a flat frame with chicken wire.)

Stockings, bags, baskets. Clusters of grapes can be covered with nylon stockings, paper lunch bags, or pockets made with bird netting or tulle cloth secured at the top of the stems. Cover grapes before they start to turn color. Strawberry baskets are perfect for protecting vulnerable seedling such as Iceland poppies and ranunculus.

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