What Smells Do Birds Hate? [9 Key Bird Repellents]

what smells do birds hate

While, as bird lovers, we want to attract certain species to our backyard, there are areas around our homes where we don’t want birds to congregate or build nests. For instance, it’s not ideal for birds to be nesting under the eaves as this can cause both a mess with droppings and also structural damage to the house. In addition, we might be fine with sharing some of the produce that we grow but don’t want the birds to steal all our fruit so there’s none left for us to enjoy.

To help deter birds from certain areas, we can capitalize on their sense of smell. There are many smells that birds dislike but which are not unpleasant to our human senses. These include many essential oils, garlic, cayenne pepper, chili and vinegar. Therefore, making up sprays with these types of products is an easy way to deter birds from certain areas around your home.

We’ll discuss some of these smells in more detail but let’s look at how birds smell.

How Birds Smell

For some years, it was believed that birds did, in fact, not have a sense of smell. However, this myth was dispelled with further studies to indicate that birds can smell, although this sense is not as well developed as their sense of vision and hearing.

To understand this, birds have large olfactory air sacs that enable them to inhale scents as well as breathe. Their nasal passages are generally located on their beaks where these attach to the head. They consist of tissue-covered bones and are referred to as a cere. The nostrils themselves are referred to as nares.

Although a bird’s sense of smell is not all that well developed, it is apparent that there are certain scents that birds dislike and others that they find quite attractive.

Many of the smells that birds dislike are actually irritants that the birds find uncomfortable. They do not harm the birds in any way and are not toxic to them.

Let’s look at each of these scents in more depth.

Smells Birds Hate


Garlic is an irritant to birds because it contains a natural chemical that is called allicin. Therefore, you can use this information to your advantage by making a garlic spray to use around the areas where you don’t want birds to settle.

You can either just combine crushed garlic with water to make an effective spray or you could also add some vinegar which is another smell that birds don’t like. Bear in mind though, that the smell will dissipate quite quickly, so you need to keep re-applying the spray.

A garlic spray is also useful to deter birds from eating the fruit as it’s ripening on the trees. As the fruit ripens, it emits a fragrance that is very attractive to birds. A garlic spray helps to mask the smell of the ripening fruit, so birds will stay away.


Birds find the strong scent of peppermint quite irritating and will avoid any areas that have been sprayed with its fragrance. By using 100% natural peppermint oil and mixing it with water, you can create a spray that will be safe to use on your plants but will definitely keep the birds away.

You can also spray straight peppermint oil onto any structures that you want to protect from nesting birds and it will keep them away.

Here’s a quick recipe to make a safe peppermint oil spray that will not harm birds:

Mix together ¼ cup of vinegar, ¼ cup of water, 7 drops of lemon oil and 7 drops of peppermint oil. You can either put this in a spray bottle and spray the mixture in areas you want to repel birds or soak some cotton balls with the mixture and place these around those areas.

Cayenne Pepper

As you’re probably aware, cayenne pepper is a general irritant to most animal olfactory glands, even including humans. The same is the case for birds. They don’t like the smell of cayenne pepper and find it quite irritating.

You can easily make up a spray by mixing a decent proportion of cayenne pepper with water and spray this around the areas where birds are not welcome.


Even some of us humans find chili quite irritating to our noses, so it’s no surprise that birds also find this product irritating to their olfactory senses. You can make a spray using water and either chili pepper, chili salt or chili powder. You can even mix the chili with some vinegar as an even more effective deterrent.

Additionally, you can sprinkle chili powder around surfaces that you want birds to stay away from such as the eaves around your home.

Here’s a great recipe for an effective chili spray:

Mix together 24 chopped up chili peppers, half a gallon of water, and ¼ cup apple cider vinegar. Put this mixture into a spray bottle and spray around your home. You’ll need to re-apply often as the smell will fade quite quickly.


As we’ve already mentioned, the smell of vinegar is quite offensive to birds. As this is a common household product, it’s an easy one to put into a spray bottle and use around the yard where you want to keep birds away.

Bear in mind though, that straight vinegar is also likely to harm some of your more delicate plants, so it’s best reserved for spraying on structures around your home. Also, the scent dissipates quite quickly, so the spray must be refreshed frequently.


It may surprise you to learn that the humble lemon can also be used to keep birds away. The scent of a lemon is often too strong for birds, so they will quickly fly away if they smell it.

You can either use freshly squeezed lemon juice or mix some lemon essential oil with water and spray this around your home to keep the birds away.


Citronella is a natural compound found in lemongrass. It has a lovely lemony fragrance but, of course, birds find this scent quite irritating. Therefore, you can make up a citronella spray to keep the birds away but it won’t harm them.

On the plus side, citronella is also really good for repelling insects so it’s great for keeping mosquitoes and flies away too.

Bird Gel

Bird gel is a commercial product that you can buy over-the-counter. It emits a peppermint smell that is very irritating to birds and also has a sticky consistency. Birds find this quite unsavory if they happen to step in it. In addition, the gel emits an ultraviolet light that birds find quite irritating.

Even though this product will scare the birds away, it won’t harm them. Bird gel is ideal for using around man-made structures that you don’t want the birds to nest on.

Essential Oil That You Should Not Use

Although essential oils such as peppermint, lemon and citronella are safe to use around your yard to keep birds away, there are certain essential oils that are actually toxic to birds and should not be used.

These include:

  • Tea tree
  • Cinnamon
  • Myrrh
  • Sandalwood
  • Eucalyptus

All of these products can cause respiratory problems in birds and should be avoided.

What Other Things Help To Keep Birds Out Of Certain Areas

Apart from using sprays made from smells that birds hate, there are other ways that you can deter birds from certain areas of your home and garden. These include:

  • Shiny hanging objects that reflect the sunlight such as old CDs, strips of aluminum foil, small mirrors, reflective tape or anything else that is metallic.
  • Decoys such as owl or eagle statues. However, these have to be moved around frequently so that the birds think that they are real.
  • Mirror balls, pinwheels or wind mills that move around in the breeze, are reflective or make a noise.
  • Bird spikes which are long rods that have a pointy tip. Birds will find these quite uncomfortable to land on and this will stop them from building nests in undesirable areas.

Final Thoughts

Although we love to attract birds into our yards by putting out feeders and installing bird baths, there are certain areas that we don’t want the birds to frequent or build their nests in. In order to keep birds away from these areas, it’s useful to know what smells birds hate. This way we can make up effective sprays to keep birds away from undesirable areas and have them around our feeders instead.

Primarily, birds dislike really strong smells because they find them quite irritating. These include peppermint oil, citronella, lemon, cayenne pepper, chili, garlic and vinegar. By using this information, we can apply these strong scents to areas that we want the birds to stay away from.

Many times, these smells are quite pleasant for our human noses but will be quite irritating to a bird’s olfactory senses. And, best of all, these smells won’t harm the birds at all.

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