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.
One example is this feeder that has been hanging on my back steps for the past few years. It is a very large (9.7″ x 17.7″) Garden Treasures open mesh tube feeder that holds a ton of seed that I bought at a local home improvement store (Lowes) a few years ago. Standing in the store, my thought was that because it holds so much seed (ten pounds), I wouldn’t have to fill it very often. It is divided into two vertical chambers so you can fill it with two types of seed if you like. And it is made of steel, so it is very durable. Although not squirrel resistant, squirrels that get on it at least can’t chew through it.
When I got it home, I found there were a few downsides to the feeder that I hadn’t considered. First, because it is so darn big and holds so much seed, it is very heavy when full. You need a thick sturdy tree branch to hold it without the branch breaking. Second, although this turned out not to be a problem, I worried that the open mesh design would expose the seed to moisture from rain and snow more than an enclosed plastic tube feeder.
So I thought about it and hung this feeder over my back steps where there is an overhang to protect it from the worst of the rain and where it could be hung securely from the overhang. When filled with sunflower seed, I soon had squirrels climbing over the roof and dangling on it. I spent the first winter banging on the back door window to shoo them away repeatedly. I bought the little dome type baffle you see in the picture above, but quickly learned that this type is pretty useless as a squirrel baffle, working more as a mini umbrella than a baffle. So I switched to safflower seed, which at that point the squirrels weren’t eating, and they mostly left it alone.
Being close to the back door, not all birds were comfortable visiting this feeder. Coming outside or even walking past the door’s window too quickly would startle some and make others wary. House Finches were the most common visitors with the occasional Northern Cardinal (although the perches are a bit short for their comfort), Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee or Carolina Wren. When four pairs of Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks visited the yard this spring for a week or so, they eventually got brave enough to visit this feeder but mostly preferred other feeders further out.
Still, this is a nice location for a few reasons. First, it really is pretty protected from a lot of the weather so it became very popular during winter storms or heavy rains, where they could eat out of the wet weather. (We’ve had crazy rain this spring so it was very popular all through May.) In drier times, it would only be used sporadically when there was no room at other feeders. Second, it is nice to have at least one feeder that isn’t buried in snow during heavy weather. Between it and a ground platform feeder underneath, it gave me time to have a cup of coffee before going out to dig out the other feeders for the winter crowd of birds. And finally, I often like to sit on the back step to bird watch. When I’m sitting there right next to the feeder, it blocks them from it.
This spring brought a bumper crop of House Finches, expanding our usual flock quite a bit. Once they began to fledge, we had them eagerly eating at every feeder all the time, including this one. Which is fine. But. The design of this feeder has six metal ports with sturdy perches and then a shallow tray encircling the bottom. There are a few small openings at the base of the feeder where seed can spill out into the tray, letting more birds perch around the bottom to eat. This is actually a good thing because seed doesn’t settle inside at the bottom of the feeder to rot and it allows additional birds to eat, but seed can spill from the filled tray if a bird makes a sloppy landing or moves around a lot.
Normally this hasn’t been a big problem, with just a little spillage which was mostly caught by the ground platform feeder underneath, but this crop of birds were the messiest feeder birds I’ve seen. Being fledglings, they were a bit clumsy and prone to quivering wings which, when done while sitting along the bottom tray caused a lot of seed to go tumbling over the edge. Spilling some seed onto the ground is normal with feeders. Ground feeding birds (and squirrels) will happily pick up the excess, but this crowd was dumping about a third of the seed (uneaten) on the ground each day. While Northern Cardinals and Mourning Doves filled the area below to eat it up, it still was making a huge mess on my back steps. Sweeping it several times a day got old and it is a pain to figure out what to do with a mix of empty shells and perfectly good dry seed.
So things had to change. I went back to my local bird store (Mother Nature’s in Columbia MD) and bought yet another Erva Squirrel baffle to to serve as a wider weather guard on this feeder and to help discourage squirrel incursions. (I love these baffles!) Then I moved it around to the front of the house to hang from one of the crab apple tree’s thick branches. We’ve had a lot of rain this spring so I did worry that the seed would get wet but have happily found that the safflower seed in it has been just fine. So far squirrels are often found under this feeder but I haven’t seen them actually on it.
The birds watched me move the feeder and got on it within minutes of my walking away and have been happy there ever since. Did I just move the mess to a different location? Sort of. For a day or two there was still a lot of spilled seed under the feeder, keeping it popular with the ground feeding birds. But the House Finch horde has since calmed down; the young ones seem to be learning to eat a bit more neatly, so things are back to normal. While they probably miss the more protected location during rain storms, I think they like being further from the house where they are less likely to be interrupted and so this feeder is now used more consistently than it was when it was on the back steps. And now my back steps are much cleaner and we aren’t constantly tracking bird seed into the kitchen!
This feeder has a new home . . . for now. I may very well move it back to the back steps next winter when the snowy season begins again. My feeling is that you let things be if they are working but you need to be willing to make adjustments when things change.
I’ve made some other changes in the yard this spring as well, but I’ll tell you about those in another post.