How to Keep Wretched Birds Away from Your Outdoor Dining Setup

Make your picnic table a fortress against gulls, robins, and all manner of winged creatures.

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Photo: Karelian (Shutterstock)

Seagulls are enemies of the human race. They wage war on our picnics. They spread disease. They terrorize charming European hotels until the guests have no choice but to defend themselves with water guns. And it’s not just seagulls—all wild birds have the potential to disrupt outdoor dining operations. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to deter intrusive avians. Whether you shell out for fancy gadgets or construct a DIY fortress, make this the summer you officially ban birds from your al fresco situation.

Try a decoy

Bird control service Avian Enterprises recommends playing on birds’ natural self-preservation instincts by placing a plastic decoy near your outdoor dining setup. “Try foxes, owls or any other common predator to get birds flying for the hills,” the site recommends. Keep in mind that this might work for short-term dining, like a quick lunch picnic—but once the birds realize the decoys aren’t moving, they’ll likely start to encroach on your territory.

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Install shiny objects

DIY blog Plasticine House explains that birds are deterred by shiny, moving objects like mirrors, plastic pinwheels, or CDs. Simply placing a mirror or CD on your dining table probably won’t work, but it only takes a minute to secure a few CDs, metallic pinwheels, or metallic streamers to nearby trees or chair legs. You can also hang the shiny objects from your deck railing if you do a lot of backyard grilling.

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Try a DIY hack to keep birds away at the park

Here’s a fun one: one Instructables contributor published this bizarre hack for keeping birds away from a picnic table. It involves running a length of string across your picnic table, which theoretically acts as a “protective barrier between your food and the birds.” The author writes:

“I have tried this on numerous occasions at a local beach that has very bad problems with seagulls taking food from tables. I purposely left food exposed and on my table to test the project. I sat nearby, but at least 20-30 ft away from my table to observe their reaction. They all stood at close distance, almost to see if the string would go away at any point in time.”

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Though this hack is effective, the author notes that it’s a “MacGyver type project” and takes a few minutes to secure. Fortunately, all you need are two yard sticks, some string or fishing line, and some duct tape. (You can also use quick-grip clamps—the author recommends these—for extra stability.)

Repel hungry birds with gadgets

If you’re not into DIY hacks, there are a number of products specifically designed to repel birds. You can purchase reflective bird diverters, which admittedly look incredibly evil. You can also go the startup route—Takeout managing editor Marnie Shure mentioned that she’s seen ads for Birdigo, a “humane bird deterrent for alfresco dining tables.” Birdigo employs a gently swinging arm to deter small birds, which seems like a good choice if you’re overrun with sparrows.

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Regardless of your bird deterring tactics, there are plenty of ways to keep birds away from your pasta salad without wielding a big stick. If you’ve got tried and true tips, we’d love to hear them.