Which Animal Is Eating Fruit Off Your Trees?
It is often difficult to harvest fruit from a tree at the right time without letting animals get to it first. Birds, raccoons, opossums, and rodents are common backyard critters with a taste for fruit. Oftentimes people will find evidence of these animals getting into their fruit trees, but not have seen the animal itself. It is important to identify what is eating the fruit before trying to solve the problem because it takes different strategies to keep different animals away. Below are descriptions and photos of the damage caused by different backyard animals, along with tips on how to humanely and effectively manage each problem.
Fruit damaged by birds, such as crows and jays, usually has visible peck marks in it. Crows sometimes carry fruit away from the tree and eat it in another location, while smaller birds tend to perch on a branch and peck at the fruit while it stays on the tree. One additional piece of evidence you may find, especially if the bird is a crow, is the occasional fruit scrap (such as an orange peel) dropped on the ground. Rodents also may leave orange peels laying around, but usually in an elevated and less exposed place.
Possible solutions: Try putting a birdfeeder in your yard away from the tree, at least while the tree is producing fruit. Birdseed that includes nuts tends to be especially attractive to crows and jays. (To avoid creating a separate problem, hang the birdfeeder in an exposed area that is not attractive to rodents, and bring it in at night.) Hanging reflective items, such as old CDs, in the tree, may work temporarily but after awhile the birds will start ignoring them. Fruit protection bags made of mesh may work for less persistent birds. Avoid using netting due to the potential of birds and other animals becoming trapped in it. If you do have to use netting, use a type that is white (so animals can see it even at night) and that is small enough you cannot poke your finger through, so that animals do not accidentally get entangled.
Fruit damaged by rodents looks gnawed rather than pecked like a bird. Sometimes it appears hollowed out, such as when rodents eat the inside of an orange but leave the peel. Birds sometimes hollow out large areas of pieces of fruit as well, but you will often see small peck marks around the main cavity, which you will not see with rodent damage. Finding pits, peels, or other fruit scraps left in enclosed, shaded spaces above the ground likely means that rodents are bringing them there.
Possible solutions: Your first step should be to trim away the surrounding vegetation (and the tree itself if needed) so that there is no easy path for rodents into the tree. (Rodents usually travel along fence rails, branches, and other aerial pathways rather than on the ground, so that they are less vulnerable to predators.) To keep more persistent rodents from climbing down to the ground and up the tree, it may help to wrap sheet metal around the trunk. In general, try to minimize rodent habitat and food sources in your yard so that they are less attracted to the area. Remember that you will probably not be able to get rid of all the rodents in your yard, but as long as they are not eating a significant amount of fruit or causing other noticeable problems, a few rats or mice are okay to have around.
Raccoons and Opossums
Raccoons and opossums often leave only small parts of fruits on the tree, or even carry off the fruit and eat it on the ground. If you find only the stem of a piece of fruit left on the tree, if a piece of fruit goes missing from where you remember it being, if you see that small branches are broken (from the weight of the animal), or if you find a half-eaten piece of fruit on the ground, the culprit is probably a raccoon or opossum.
Possible solutions: As with rodents, trimming the tree and surrounding vegetation may help make it less convenient for animals to access it. Wrapping at least 3 feet of sheet metal around the trunk may also help, but these animals (especially raccoons) tend to be able to find ways to get into the tree anyways. In the end, remember that a few pieces of fruit damaged by a raccoon or opossum probably don't constitute a raccoon or opossum problem. If you only have a few fruits on the tree, be extra careful in monitoring when they are ripe, and maybe even pick them early. You can also try shining a light on the tree all night, but this is only a temporary deterrent because animals soon habituate. If you have many fruits on the tree and still can get a substantial harvest despite raccoons and opossums damaging some, leave the animals alone. They are part of a good backyard habitat and can even help keep rodent populations under control.
Apples: Chert Hollow Farm, LLC, http://cherthollowfarm.com/2015/07/are-birds-damaging-our-apples/
Orange: Barn Owl Box Company, https://www.barnowlbox.com/using-barn-owls-for-rodent-control-in-florida-orange-groves/
Opossum eating apple: The Skunk Corner.
The Skunk Corner does not necessarily endorse or agree with the websites linked to above; they are listed for proper photo attribution only.