Moving a Bird Feeder

Mesh Tube Bird Feeder
Garden Treasures Metal Mesh Tube Bird Feeder

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.

Female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak on the Feeder
Female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak on the Feeder

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.

Tray Part of Feeder
The Tray Provides Extra Access to the Seed

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.

Feeder with Erva Baffle
Feeder with New Erva Baffle Moved to Front Yard

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.

Nancie

6 thoughts on “Moving a Bird Feeder”

  1. Fantastic information – thank you. I have done the same thing – went for the huge feeder (not realizing at the time how heavy it would be), hung it beautifully outside my front porch and what a mess !!!
    I am now going to move it as the neighbors chickens have discovered the spilled seed on the ground and what a bigger mess that creates. Hoping if I move it to the backyard the birds will be ok, and the chickens wont find it ! I have heard that birds will purposely spill some seeds out to the ground if they can – not sure if accurate or not – thx again –
    Fingers crossed the birds will find it !

    1. Wow! Fortunately my neighbors don’t have chickens (but we’ve got tons of squirrels who go after seed on the ground.) I think you are right that birds may purposely spill some seed. I notice that they can be pretty casual about how they eat a seed too. Some of the smaller birds like goldfinches and house finches will bite into a sunflower heart, eating part of it and letting the rest drop to the ground. That gives other ground feeding birds something to eat. With our recent ice and snow storm, we even got a hermit thrush hanging out under the feeders waiting for the finches to drop bits of seed down to them.

  2. I found out that the birds are making too much of a mess on my front porch so I have to move the feeder for a fourth time to move it away from the porch so I moved your feet or 10 feet away until I get it to the backyard so this is an experiment I’m hoping it works

  3. Hi, I wonder if you have any advice for me. I have a feeder that extends from my front porch deck walk, filled with black oilers. My cat loves to sit there all day, but the birds leave droppings on the walkway. I can move it to my back deck, where she can still see it, but I then get a mess on my deck. Plus, now the neighbors whose deck is only about 8 feet from mine, have put up feeders with regular bird seed in it. Top that off with the fact that there is a marsh right behind my condo, which attracts tons of red-winged blackbirds in the summer, and they push the prettier birds out! There are no trees within viewing distance, and my condo association lawn maintenance doesn’t like mowing around poles.
    Any suggestions as to moving the feeder and/or changing seed? Thank you!

    1. Hi Kathy. Hmmm. It sounds to me like your first preference is to keep this feeder out front? If you have a local bird store, you might go in and look at the poles/arms for hanging feeders from a deck railing (or there are companies that sell these online.) I’m guessing that you probably already are using something like this to hang the feeder, but you might see if you can find one of a different length that would extend the feeder over the grass instead of the sidewalk.

      Another thought is about a pole on the ground. I mulch around the base of my poles so that my husband doesn’t have to cut close to them. I don’t know if that would make the lawn maintenance people happy but might be an option.

      On the seed, it is tricky. Black oilers are popular with most birds. The shells can make a mess though and can kill grass so I use sunflower hearts in my feeders to avoid that. I do use a LOT of safflower as well. It has shells but somehow doesn’t create the same volume of waste shell as the oilers do, although there is a little. (I tried the hulled type of safflower but my local birds weren’t impressed with it.) Anyway, Red-winged Blackbirds will eat safflower but there is a chance that they might PREFER what your neighbors are feeding them out back. You might try getting a small amount of safflower for the front feeder as an experiment. Northern Cardinals love it and many other song birds will eat it as well, although some may need to get used to it. It is possible that the bulk of the Red-Winged Blackbirds would congregate on the neighbor’s feeders, leaving your feeder out front more accessible to the other birds. Or not. If there is a HUGE number of the blackbirds, they might still be on all the feeders. That’s why I suggest trying a small amount of safflower as an experiment.

      Good luck! I’d love to hear how it goes!
      Nancie

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