Birds active in apple orchards in south–eastern Australia can contribute positively (e.g., control crop pests) or negatively (e.g., crop damage) to crop yields. Our study is the first to identify net outcomes of these activities, using six apple orchards, varying in management intensity, in south–eastern Australia as a study system. We also conducted a predation experiment using real and artificial codling moth (
Cydia pomonella) larvae (a major pest in apple crops). We found that: (1) excluding birds from branches of apple trees resulted in an average of 12.8% more apples damaged by insects; (2) bird damage to apples was low (1.9% of apples); and (3) when trading off the potential benefits (biological control) with costs (bird damage to apples), birds provided an overall net benefit to orchard growers. We found that predation of real codling moth larvae was higher than for plasticine larvae, suggesting that plasticine prey models are not useful for inferring actual predation levels. Our study shows how complex ecological interactions between birds and invertebrates affect crop yield in apples, and provides practical strategies for improving the sustainability of orchard systems.