Deer Control with a Hummingbird-Safe Electric Fence

 It’s springtime at the Bear Cave and our winter drought continues. The winter rains, with few exceptions, missed us and passed over us to the North. As a result, there is not much to eat for our deer. This is the time of year when our little orchard here at the Bear Cave is pretty tempting. However, we much prefer to eat from our peach, apple, plum and pear trees ourselves.

 Two years ago, when we first planted our fruit trees, we awoke one morning to some pretty badly chomped little trees. My response was to cut some 10′ rebar stakes, get a bunch of insulators, a spool of wire, and set up an electric barrier fence.  We installed an inexpensive 45 W photovoltaic system we had used to power our camp trailer and we believed that were protected.

We went to bed after installing the deer fence feeling pretty smug about keeping the deer out. Next morning, a section of the fence was a tangled mess and another meal had been taken by our local deer.

We straightened and reset the rebar and restrung the wire. This time, we added a bit of flair. On all three strands of wire, spaced about 6′ apart, we tied aluminum foil flags. On the flags, we put a heavy smear of peanut butter.

 Next morning, there were three sets of deer tracks approaching the orchard at a walk. The tracks were deep and far apart leaving the fence. We have not been bothered by deer since. Let’s hear it for aversion therapy!

Unfortunately, we found that in protecting our orchard from deer, we became a serious threat to our hummingbird population. The bright yellow insulators look way too much like flowers for the hummers to resist. They would perch on the hot fence wire and poke at the insulator. Either they would touch the steel stake or get close enough to produce an arc. There are few sights more tragic to a bird lover than a tiny lifeless body hanging from an electric fence wire.

Because insulated stakes are comparatively expensive and most are shorter than our deer fence, we found a simple and cheap solution. First turning off the power, we lowered the insulators down about a foot on the rebar stake. We then wrapped the stake with PVC tape for about one foot. After sliding the insulators back into place, midway on the tape, we energized the fence. No more problems for us or the hummingbirds.

Building in the desert presents a variety of conflicts between the indigenous species and us. Barbara and I work with and around the native animals, whether warm or cold blooded, as well as we can while still protecting our very necessary garden and orchard produce. In this case, we are happy with the results of our efforts.

  • Published on Apr 29, 2011
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