Vickroy: Owls might keep away critters from garden
Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 June 6, 2012 6:42PM
An owl statue watches over a vegetable garden in Tinley Park. Though the homeowners admit the stone-filled bird of prey isn't very effective in keeping rabbits away, it has become somewhat of a family tradition. DONNA VICKROY
Updated: July 8, 2012 8:27AM
In Siberia, they’re thought to be helpful spirits. In Scotland, they’re considered bad luck. And if a pregnant woman in France sees one, it means she will give birth to a girl.
Owls have a long, sordid reputation. Some say they’re wise. Some say they’re scary. And the characters in the Harry Potter series consider them to be pretty reliable.
Lately, around these parts, the nocturnal birds of prey have come to symbolize the battle to take back the garden.
Recent folklore has it that an owl statue can be all you need to keep pesky pets from viewing your flowers and vegetable gardens as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Juan Guzman, general manager of Saunoris’ Garden Center in Frankfort, said Monday his store had sold out of owl statues, although a shipment was expected by week’s end. Yes, they’re that popular.
Guzman said, if used properly, the plastic or ceramic garden ornaments do work to keep rabbits, chipmunks and other critters from noshing on your lettuce, peppers and impatiens.
“You need one with a head that rotates and you have to move it around the garden,” he said. “Otherwise the rabbits get wise that it’s not real.”
Jennifer Halac said her dad has had a brown owl statue overlooking the vegetable garden in his Tinley Park back yard for years.
It is so lifelike that Halac said a couple once stopped along the side of her house to gaze at it and ask if it was real. It’s not.
Does it work?
“No,” she chuckled. “We still have problems with rabbits. All the time.”
Even the living, barking dogs aren’t menacing enough to keep the determined rodents at bay.
Marilyn McDonald is president of the Oak Lawn Garden Club.
“I’ve heard a lot of people are trying it, but I don’t know of any scientific evidence that it works,” she said. “But it certainly is an environmentally friendly option.”
Sue Palka calls the owl statue remedy an Old Wives Tale.
“It’s just like the inflatable snake in the yard,” the Evergreen Park resident said. “Once the animals realize it doesn’t move, they know it’s not a threat.”
Palka, a member of the Evergreen Park Garden Club, said rabbits are the least of her problems, thanks to a hawk that hovers nearby.
A far greater threat is the opossum and squirrel population, she said.
The birds get blamed for a lot of garden damage but Palka said she thinks they’re the fall guys. She would know. She once staked out her garden at night. After hearing something on the chain link fence, she switched on a light to catch an opossum red-handed. It had simply climbed up, reached over the fencing, grabbed a tomato, sucked the insides out of it and left the skin hanging on the vine.
Now Palka keeps an opossum stick with a pointed end in her back yard.
“That and the hose are good motivators,” she said.
Jackie Riffice, founder of the Prairie Godmothers, said she doesn’t believe statues of owls will ward off anything.
Animals react to smell and movement. A statue offers neither, she said.
What does work, she said, is fencing, raised beds on platforms and noisy reflective items placed strategically among your plants.
“Some people hang reflective pie plates or mount old CDs on sticks,” she said. “You can also place wind chimes out there. Anything that blows in the breeze can unnerve critters.”
There’s a relatively new product available called bunny fencing, she said. It forms a decorative, protective ring around plants and rose bushes.
Riffice, of Flossmoor, said you also must change your method of repellent, be it soap bars, pepper or human hair, regularly.
A sure-fire way to keep rabbits away, she said, is to think like one and then plant things they don’t like to eat, such as onions, mint, radishes and chives.
Simply placing an owl outside and expecting it to do the trick is akin to burying a St. Anthony statue and waiting for your house to sell, she said. Both practices rely as much on smart decision-making and luck as they do the power of folklore.