I seem to have a growing collection of bird feeders. Some women can’t stop buying shoes. I can’t stop buying bird feeders. Just when I think I’ve got the yard set up perfectly, some bird dynamic changes, I look for a solution and there I am buying another bird feeder!
The problem I was having was a real pain . . . or a non-problem depending on your point of view. While all birds have their good and bad qualities (as seen by humans), I have mixed feelings about Common Grackles. While I think their feathers can be very beautiful in the sunlight and they are quite clever, their manners at the bird feeders don’t endear themselves to me. They tend to arrive in groups and if they like what they find in a feeder, they’ll hang around all day, dominating the feeders quite aggressively, not letting other birds have a chance.
I only have grackle issues periodically, mostly in the spring when they are moving in really large groups. But this year, a small group of them settled into our neighborhood, decided they liked my feeders and didn’t move on. With a crowd of grackles on the feeders, I was hardly seeing the Carolina Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches and Tufted Titmouses that have been yard regulars for years. Even the finches and sparrows were getting scarce. What to do?
As I’ve gotten more and more interested in birds, I’ve spent more time reading about them. I must admit though that I’ve never been able to get too excited about the nesting and parenting section of a bird’s entry in the typical bird identification guide. They so often seem to be about numbers: x amount of time to build a nest, x number of eggs, x number of weeks sitting on the nest, x number of days or weeks of fledging the young, etc. My eyes would glaze over and it just wouldn’t stick in my mind. But I’m currently reading a book about just this topic and I’m completely fascinated. If you enjoy watching birds, I highly recommend that you check it out.
I have a lot of bird feeders. Each new season brings changes to the bird dynamics in the yard so I tend to do some tweaking of feeders or their placement each season. During warmer months, birds have a wider variety of natural foods available so, while they still eat birdseed, they don’t go through as much of it. Now that fall has arrived, birdseed consumption will soon be picking up. I want to see if I can reduce the amount of seed winding up in squirrel bellies this winter, so I made another change in my set-up. This time, it involves turning a ground platform feeder into a platform feeder on top of a pole.
Birdbaths are popular with all birds, even birds that otherwise wouldn’t visit a bird feeder, making them a great addition to your back yard. Watching a small flock of American Goldfinches lining up around the rim to drink or an American Robin taking a bath is a joyful experience. Because birdbaths are located outside, one common way to fill them is to use a garden hose. But is your hose actually providing healthy clean water for the birds? You may be surprised to find that it is not!
Suet is incredibly popular in the spring. In my yard it is arguably more popular this time of year than any of the seed in the feeders. Even if you are someone who doesn’t feed birds in warmer weather, I do encourage you to at least put out suet in the spring and early summer, as you will be rewarded with mom and dad birds visiting repeatedly to bring suet back to their babies and then bringing their fledglings to the suet directly. (And of course woodpeckers and quite a few other birds enjoy suet year round as long as it is the melt-free type that is less likely to go bad in hot weather.)
When you feed birds in a big way year-round like I do, you find that there is no perfect year-round arrangement of bird feeders because the bird population in the yard is not stagnant. Some birds seem to stick around with a fairly predictable daily schedule. Others are only here for a season and then migrate out again. Some stop by for a day or two and move on. And yet more discover the bird feeder buffet and become new regulars. Some changes in the bird population don’t make a big impact, while others change the whole dynamic of the yard and I find myself moving feeders around again to find the perfect setup for the new situation.
If you put out food for birds, you are almost guaranteed to have other critters come to eat too. In my yard, this means a slew of squirrels and a huge groundhog (although I haven’t seen the groundhog this year, so I’m hopeful it has moved!) The squirrels cause me all kinds of grief, but to put it in perspective, at least I don’t have raccoons or bears carrying off the feeders entirely!
Keeping squirrels from dominating the bird feeders and eating a large portion of the food has been a continuous challenge. I’ve experimented with different types of seed, different types of feeders and different ways of protecting the seed and feeders from the squirrels. I’ve had some luck, but my yard still isn’t squirrel free. So for the past six months or so I’ve been experimenting with a different approach to keeping squirrels out of the feeders: feeding them!