Guest Blog by Jackie Hull,
in the foothills of Virginia
Bears Barely Tolerable Behavior
Bear Raiding Feeders
Well, the bear did it again. It tore up some of the spindles on the porch railing, tipped over a couple of the vegetable pots, and yanked a six-foot portion of our picket fence off the posts. All this to remind me that I should not feed the birds this time of year. It’s May.
So what to do but put away all the feeders? Maybe I can try again in the fall when bears retreat to the dens for their winter snooze.
This pretty much gave me great moments of sadness especially since I’ve had to shed other favorite activities.
Bird Antics Bring Joy
But today was a day of great surprises. My beautiful main stays, the birds, were everywhere. As I sat in the kitchen peering out the window, I spotted the adult turkeys poking their heads above the uncut hay. I could feel their parental thoughts “The coast is clear so keep scrambling forward.” The chicks were not seen but definitely there. A goldfinch zipped over them. Then I saw two wood thrashers near the holly tree scavenging for insects. Oh, my look how that crow struts!
Wrens are Chatterers
Listen, that’s the wren by the back door. She keeps chattering to remind me she built her condo in the hanging planter. Then a flash of bright red caught my eye as I walked onto the porch. It’s a cardinal. Then the female house finch flicked from her nest over the front door light. She doesn’t like me stepping onto the porch. She is quite timid.
Even though the feeders have been down for nearly two months, the birds have kept their vigil at my country home much to my delight. They are in the trees, along the lane, and in the hayfield. What a great day!
Keeping Squirrels at bay
Bruce Frana, a Winding Pathways visitor, saw one of our blogs on our “squirrel proof” feeder and how we discourage squirrels from gobbling up sunflower seeds we put out for birds. He crafted a similar but much more attractive version that’s in his yard. Our contraption is a box framed with 2X2 lumber with sides of 2” x 2” wire mesh. A piece of plywood forms the roof, and we attached it to a wooden table with a pair of hinges. The hinges let us lift the cage to sprinkle sunflower seeds inside.
It works. Sort of. Cardinals, chickadees, and nuthatches easily pass through the wire mesh to feed. Some squirrels and wild turkeys, which we like but get frustrated when they gobble up all the seed, can’t get through the mesh. Our fox squirrels are too chunky to squeeze through, but smaller gray squirrels manage to get in and gobble seeds. We could keep the grays out if we could find 1 ¾ x 1 ¾ mesh wire on the market. As far as we know it doesn’t exist, but if it did it would let birds in but exclude even the skinniest gray squirrel.
Bruce reports that his fox squirrels can’t enter either but the grays do. Here is a photo of his squirrel foiling feeder:
Do It Yourself “Squirrel Proof” Feeder!
Here is what he shared: “I have had a platform feeder for several years but, like your blog mentioned, turkeys, and even some clever squirrels, were able to get on top of it. I built (a feeder) based on the plan/picture you shared on your blog. I adapted the plan to the platform feeder I had and made some of my own modifications.
“As you can see from the pictures, I attached the structure onto the original platform by using hinges, just as your plan had done. I also put a pitched roof and handle to be able to easily lift the one end to place seed on the platform. The entire system is attached to a 2″ PVC pipe that slides over a steel post. I have had one ingenious small grey squirrel figure out how to get into the feeder and solved that problem, at least for now, by making the wire openings a bit smaller on two sides.” It works…sort of!”
Readers can go online and find “Do It Yourself” (DYI) “squirrel proof” feeder instructions. Good luck and let us know how it goes! Thanks, Bruce Frana.
Adaptation to feeder
Back View of feeder
Well, the turkey characters are at it, again! Up they come each morning even before sun up, looking quite fit and hale, and gobbling for breakfast. At Winding Pathways we get a kick out of the web pages and sporting flyers that detail all the equipment one needs to bag a turkey and how early one has to get up to beat the turkeys out of bed. Special camo clothes, calls, camo guns, shells. To the credit of the web sites, they do offer intriguing information on strutting, clutches of eggs, turkey senses, and habitat. A Kidzone site shares an interesting story of the “mix-up” of the name. and, of course, Audubon gives a great set of pictures and details about turkeys. All fun reading.
From the comfort of our home, we sip our coffee and watch a crew of seven meander up from the ridge where they roosted and another eight that saunter over from the neighbor’s trees. Then, it is the Sharks and the Jets (think West Side Story) as they squabble over the seed tossed out – not for them – but for the song birds. Or look at us with pathetic longing, trying to make us think they are starving. Ha!
Meanwhile, the less dominant males slide in for a feast.
Same with mating. The dominant males strut and intimidate and the less aggressive males sidle up to a female that is ready and mate. Maybe we will eventually have less pushy turkeys.
Enjoy this gallery of winter and spring turkey antics.
Making himself right at home.
Feather in the woods
Flamingo checks out turkey.
Fanning the tail
More intent on propagating than on strutting.
There’s a simple solution to two problems often encountered by people who feed birds in their backyards. Either few birds visit the feeder or the darn birds perch on deck chairs and poop on the furniture.
Birds shun a backyard feeder for many reasons, but the most common is lack of habitat. Birds mainly visit feeders with a wide array of trees, shrubs and grasses with water close by. Offer expensive gourmet bird feed in poor habitat and few birds will come. Those that do will usually be English sparrows and pigeons.
Birds prefer perching on natural branches while waiting their turn to hop on a feeder. If few branches are around they’ll often use outdoor furniture and make a mess.
The long term solution to both problems is to plant a diversity of trees, shrubs, tall grasses and wildflowers in the yard. These can take years to mature. A short term solution is to erect what Winding Pathways calls “Poop Posts.” Scrounge a few dead branches eight or ten feet long, dig a hole and “plant them” in the yard about a dozen feet from feeders and away from furniture. These fake trees give birds a place to perch and when they poop it becomes lawn fertilizer. Come spring simply remove the sticks.
Give yourself and your feathered friends a break and set a poop post in the ground before freeze-up.
One late October afternoon we set up a few bird feeders in the back yard. Within minutes a procession of nuthatches and chickadees began feasting on sunflower seeds. It amazed us how quickly the birds were able to locate seeds. Gifted with amazing eyesight and intimate knowledge of their territory, birds watch every move humans make and seize any opportunity for free breakfast.
Setting up a backyard feeder brings colorful wildlife to brighten otherwise dreary winter days. Bird feeding is amazingly popular. Upwards of half of American households put out at least a few seeds. It is an outstanding activity to involve a child in.
Bird feeding can be amazingly simple and inexpensive or complex and costly. This blog covers just the very basics. Specific bird feeding tips and bird information will be posted often on the subscription part of the Winding Pathways Website.
Sometimes people wonder why few birds visit their feeders. Usually, it’s simply because their yard is devoid of diverse plants that support different bird species. An array of trees, shrubs and ground level plants provide birds with food and places to hide. Anyone wishing to attract a diversity of birds should landscape for them. That can be a multi-year project. In the short term putting some discarded Christmas trees or brush in monoculture yard will help attract them.
Offering several types of food in a variety of feeders also enhances success. One of the best feeders is a picnic table. Just scatter sunflower seeds on it. Cardinals, in particular, like to feed on a large flat surface and rarely visit silo type hanging feeders. We put out suet for woodpeckers, sunflower seed for a diversity of species, corn for squirrels, millet for doves, and corn for our squirrel friends. But, if we had to choose just one type of seed and feeder they would be black oil sunflower scattered on the picnic table!
Here are some bird feeding tips:
• Visit a specialty bird feeding store. These are becoming increasingly common and sell a diversity of seeds, feeders and accessories. But, more important, sales people will share comprehensive knowledge about local birds and how to best attract them. Big box stores sell seeds and feeders, but offer sparse education.
• Be wary of seed mixes, especially inexpensive ones. Often they are packed with milo, a seed few birds like to eat.
• Keep seed fresh and safe from rodents. Old stale seed won’t attract birds. Store it in a metal garbage can with tight lid to help keep the seed fresh and exclude mice.
• Keep feeders clean. Give them a good scrubbing every once in a while.
• Buy quality feeders. Quality brands, like Aspects and Droll Yankee, make high quality feeders that are easy to clean and resist breaking. If one does break the company will replace it.
• Feed up, down and around. Do some reading about birds and watch closely. You’ll notice that some birds, like mourning doves and juncos, prefer feeding on the ground and are rarely on feeders, while chickadees and nuthatches would rather visit an elevated feeder. Put the types of seed each species prefers where it likes to feed. For example, spread millet on the ground for doves and put sunflower seed in feeders.
• Don’t get too discouraged by squirrels. They are fascinating animals with amusing antics. Lots of websites and books give tips for excluding them from feeders, but we choose to toss some corn on the ground for them to enjoy.
• Read and Observe. Birds, even common species, are fascinating. They are often the first portal to nature that kids see. A pair of binoculars can help viewing, and many resources are available online and at the library.
• Connect with others who love birds. The local bird feeding store can help you find others who feed birds. Probably the best online source of bird information comes from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology.
• Don’t worry if you take a winter vacation and have no one to stock the feeders. Birds move around through the day and feed at many places. If they find your feeder empty they’ll move on but will be back soon after you return home and fill up your feeders.
Check out the subscription area of the Winding Pathways Website for periodic updates on bird feeding.