Summer Deck Garden (Part 2: the War of the Pigeons)

So, I already discussed our amazing summer garden in Part 1 of this post. It was a lot of fun cultivating and enjoying all summer, and lead to some particularly great culinary experiences quite unexpectedly.

But there was a dark side to our summer garden experiences. It began as a phantom menace that we couldn’t identify, then it was revealed as a frightening and formidable predator, and slowly turned into an all-consuming campaign against a reign of terror from the skies. What am I talking about? (Fair question) ….The War on Pigeon Terror!

In case you didn’t read Part 1 of this post, our summer garden was a lovely container garden of herbs, flowers, and tomatoes located on the deck of a top-floor apartment in the heart of downtown DC.

Cathedral gable

The deck happens to be located next door to a historic cathedral, with lots of spires and arches and nooks and crannies.

We would go out on the deck after work, have a glass of wine, and watch everything growing and blooming. the summer was going great. Then suddenly, the strangest thing started to happen – the herbs started shrinking! (Dun, dun DUN!!)

Seriously – they got shorter. The tiny little purple sprouts on the tops of the lavender disappeared. Several plants in the garden seemed to retract in stem length. And the only clue to this mystery, whisping across the deck, was a lone grey feather, and the ominous echo of flapping wings coming from among the cathedral spires.


Yep, pigeons were eating our herbs! And not just any pigeons – city pigeons. As anyone who lives in a large city can tell you, urban pigeons are mean hostile creatures who have little to no respect for the people who inhabit the city.

The flock of pigeons that had taken up residence among the cathedral spires and chimneys were particularly ruthless. They considered the deck their territory, and anything planted there, fair game. They also swooped in on us when we sat outside. it was some cross between watchfully begging for crumbs, and trying to intimidate through proximity.

And so, the War of the Pigeons began!


There were several stages in our battle. The first was merely defensive. We bought some chicken wire and (risking life and limb) closed off the open area under the deck that was a preferred hang out spot (also an ideal location to lay in wait to fly up and scare you when you leaned over the railing).

The pigeons just switched hang out spots – onto the fire escape, and various railings of the church roof next door.

So, I consulted the internet (always reliable) and found the pigeons supposedly hate strong smells. The web specifically suggested sprinkling cayenne pepper around the spots they usually hang. Easy! I bought a ton of cayenne pepper and sprinkled it all around the plants, the deck, and the fire escape. Result: Bruce and I had sneezing fits until the next rain storm washed it away, and the pigeons had “zesty” herbs to eat that week.

Wiatraczek czerwony

Next stage: scare tactics. Based on a number of “reliable internet sources,” I purchased some plastic pinwheels to put in each pot and twirling wind catchers . These were supposed to spin in the breeze and ward off the birds. Nope. Pigeons didn’t care one bit. Also, it took quite a stiff breeze to make the pinwheels twirl. They mostly just sat there. And so did the pigeons.

Next plan – wind chimes. Again, the internet assured me that high-pitched tinkling would frighten these birds. I think it actually created a soothing environment for them. We came upstairs one day to find several fowl sitting on the deck decidedly enjoying the pretty twirly and tinkling ambiance I had arranged for them while they munched on my herbs.

CD Reflections

So I reconsidered. Perhaps the wind-catchers were not big and flashy enough to scare the pigeons. I needed something bigger and flashier. My internet sources suggested that hanging up old CDs pasted together back to back with string would be sufficiently frightening. Another site suggested that if I colored the inside circle of the CDC orange, and outlined it in black it would create a “predator eye” phenomenon that would doubly frighten the birds (I realize how ridiculous this sounds, but check the internet for yourself! Predator eye products are used by NASA.) So, I colored, glued, strung, and hung the CDs all around the deck, and on the fire escape. It was incredible (or hideous, if you are Bruce). And I sat back and waited to claim victory.

And I inadvertently created Disco Jesus, 2011.

Stained Glass Window

Recall that the deck and apartment are located right next door to a church?  It is a small historic cathedral really. Well, the next Sunday morning, as all the good people of the church were in service, they looked up at the enormous stained glass windows, to see a crazy reflective disco ball light show dancing back and forth across the faces of Mary, the baby Jesus, and various cherubs and saints. That’s right. My CDs were swaying and spinning in the breeze, and reflecting like crazy, scaring not pigeons, but parishioners.

I was mortified. Bruce laughed until his face turned red and coined it “disco Jesus,” which is exactly how it looked. I apologized to the head of the congregation, and the CDs came down. The pigeons came back to the fire escape and deck, looking slightly smug over the whole incident.

So that is when I decided to up the ante. I bought an owl. Not a real owl (I am pretty sure they are illegal as pets in the city. Also, who wants to clean up THAT cage?!) No, I bought an inflatable owl.

Picture a beach ball in owl-shape, painted to look like the real thing. I was so proud! I strung that thing to a deck chair facing the ledge most favored by the pigeons, and sat back to watch the greatness.

Greatness did not happen. The owl sat there, and so did the pigeons, wondering to each other about my new interest in inflatable dolls. The owl is now available for sale on Amazon under “used, like new” if you want a new pool toy for next summer.

During all of this Bruce and I had several (joking) conversations about buying a BB gun. Several of our friends also suggested it. Yes, that would be illegal in the city. No, we weren’t willing to risk breaking the law, hurting someone, or freaking out all the people in Whole Foods parking lot across the alley. But, these conversations, and months of frustration did result in a break through of sorts!

Super Soaker CPS 4100 from Hasbro; 2005 re-rel...

I bought a water gun. A really cool one, with great range. I showed it to Bruce on his half birthday, and his whole face lit up. And we took turns going all Tony Montana (with water) on those birds everyday after work for a couple of weeks. It was so fun! Best part of the summer! The pigeons basically got wet, flew away and then returned, but kept a wider distance any time we were out there.

Around this time I also had another breakthrough in the War on Pigeon Terror. Our friends Christina and Graham over for dinner, and saved my sanity. Graham has a very unique day job: he is an art handler. His company moves priceless works of art all over the world, from museum to museum. Graham is an expert at handling art, and hanging things on any wall, in general.

I was complaining to him about my pigeon problem (I could talk about little else at the time). Graham told me that museums have problems with birds too. They get in to places like the Louvre, and are difficult to catch and remove. So, Graham explained, they have a simple solution to keeping the birds from desecrating the Mona Lisa: it is called Irri-Tape.

Irri-Tape is shiny reflective mylar ribbon that waves and crackles in even the slightest wind. Glue it to any surface, and birds will not land there. Graham said it has to do with them not landing on water. They perceive the reflective tape as an unstable surface, and divert elsewhere. The company that makes Irri-Tape suggests hanging it up in long ribbons to blow in the breeze. They say that birds are terrified of getting tangled in wires, traps, string, etc. and when they see it blowing in the wind, they avoid it for that reason. They also claim birds are frightened by the crackling sound and bright reflections (suggesting fire) and stay away.

I took no chances. I hung it up both ways, and it WORKED! We have not seen a pigeon on the deck or fire escape since. They are still in the area, but they have learned not to mess with out territory. (Or, they finally took pity on me, and moved on. But either way, I’ll take it!)

Our herbs recovered and we had a wonderful summer garden. Oh, and we still have the water gun. We are just looking for a new target… heh heh heh!


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