My Attempt To Train My Back Yard Birds
Each of us, from time to time, looks out into our back yards and sees something we’re not crazy about. Whether it’s a squirrel figuring out a way to get to one of our feeders or a large flock of grackles that have taken another one over. Myself, I tend to be a rather active or even proactive birder. If I see something developing, I’ll take steps to either stop it from getting worse or to curtail it completely. I’ve recently had a challenge arise that I’d like to share with you.
I’ve recently had just one squirrel-proof hopper feeder up on my main feeder. I also have an upside-down thistle feeder and a squirrel proof peanut feeder. All sounds just fine so far, right?
So, What’s The Problem, Jeff?
The problem is that the hopper feeder is so overrun with house finches that I don’t see how anything else gets to eat. Before you say it, I’ve tried in the past to just add more feeders to spread out the flock but that just backfires. What ends up happening is I’ll end up with THREE feeders being overrun by them. So, I knew another tactic was needed. Plus, I was already seeing signs some of the house finches may be in the first stages of their eye disease. So, I had taken down the hopper feeder to help them scatter.
I should mention here that some experts with way more ornithological experience than me recommend cleaning them but leaving them up to keep the infestation local. This has NEVER worked for me! All I get is a repeating infection cycle that lasts WAY longer than the 10-14 days they say it will take for it to clear up. My belief is you can’t possibly clean them enough to stay ahead of this so I just clean them and take them down. I do NOT believe this is an irresponsible act either.
Enter The Squirrel Buster Legacy!
The great folks at Brome Bird Care recently informed me I had won a Squirrel Buster Standard feeder for being picked at random from their Brome Bird News newsletter drawing! When it arrived last week, I was excited to put it out there and hoped some of the other birds, cardinals in particular, would learn to use it and this would help limit the house finch incursion. It’s been out there for over a week and I have the following to report: FAILURE!
Yes and No
Well, not a complete failure. Yes, some of the cardinals ARE learning to use the feeder. No, it is NOT keeping the house finches from learning to use this new feeder and cleaning it out too! I will give it a few more days and then I’ll pull that one as well.
But We DO Have Water
It’s well into the nineties here for the last couple of weeks so I believe I am serving them much better by making sure both of my bird baths are full of clean and fresh water. I’ll continue to take that out at lunch and dinner time during this weather.
I’ll let you know what happened with my new feeder.
Tell Me Your Stories
Have you had any luck retraining birds to use a different feeder to keep one species from taking over your back yard? Any other tactics we could learn from? Let me know about it by leaving a comment below. Also, if you enjoyed this post, please share it using the buttons below!
Warning: Experiences Like This Are Likely To Change Your Life!
It is amazing how we humans can get caught in tunnel vision. Things happen in our lives and we just use it as evidence that everything is about us. You have a challenge. Whether it’s health or finances or family or everything at once; we’re so quick to listen to our egoic minds and only see how it affects us. Sometimes, it’s just during a crisis but you and I both know people who spend 90% or their lives in this mode. When you ask them how they are, you know you’re going to here everything about what’s wrong with THEM. Not about challenges others are going through. That is, unless those challenges affect THEM.
This is why I’ve written about the importance of being mindful and present. This way, you’re paying attention and can respond to a need when it arises.
Today, was a major example of this for me! Let me tell you about it, ok?
Same Old Day, New Twist
This morning was not much different than any other Saturday morning. My wife was out of town with a friend so it was just me and Maggie (our 12 year old Yorkie/Chihuahua mix that still thinks she’s a puppy). We got up, I made breakfast and coffee and was just getting ready for a day of light work on my various projects. I was out in the kitchen cleaning up when I heard the thud. Anybody who feeds birds in their back yard knows that thud. It was the thud of a window strike. Apparently, a hawk had made another pass through my back yard and scattered my visitors.
Feeling a pit in my stomach, I braved to look out to see what had happened. That’s when I saw him. A male downy woodpecker laying on his side on the step right outside our back door. He was breathing but obviously incapacitated. I went to fetch my gardening gloves so if he were able to grasp anything, it wouldn’t be my skin-HA!
You Have To Do Things That Scare You!
Ready for the worst but thinking of the best (if that seems possible), I went outside and carefully grabbed him up into the palm of my hand. He was still breathing and his eyes were at least opening and closing which was a good sign. I said a prayer. I immediately began talking to him. I told him he’d had a little accident but that he was going to be ok. Each time I spoke, he would open his eyes and look right into my soul. Do you know that look? I continued to talk to him in a very slow, low and quiet manner not to alarm him. I know that interactions with humans can be a powerfully stressing event in itself but I couldn’t just let him lay there in case the hawk was still around.
Signs of Life!
The more he lay there, the better I began to feel about his chances. He was keeping his eyes open longer, responding to my words and he had started to grasp my thumb with both feet. He was now sitting up but not in a huge hurry to leave. I continued to tell him how beautiful he was and that he was going to be on my peanut feeder in no time. He acknowledged my vision and began to move his beak and look around. This is when I became the most encouraged because I was sure he had not broken or injured his neck.
I continued to talk to him and told him how much I enjoyed watching he and his mate visit my peanut and suet feeders. I told him how glad I was they were patient enough to wait for their turn in between the starlings and bluejays.
All the while, he kept looking into my soul.
That’s when the transformation happened!
The Patient Becomes The Doctor
Before I knew it, he was speaking to me! He was telling me how much he appreciated my help just now and all the kind things I do for him. He told me he knew (because he’d stayed in the tree and watched me) I was the one who put out all the wonderful food that they enjoyed. He told me I didn’t realize how much they needed that food in the winter especially. He said he’s often wanted to come down while I was filling feeders and tell me himself but he was afraid. He’d heard bad things about humans and he just believed them.
He told me he now knows all of those stories can’t be true. Some might be but he had hope that there were more like me. I told him there were but he was wise to be cautious.
By this time, he was moving his head back and forth and was flexing his jaw like a prize fighter trying to shake off a right hook that landed.
Then, he said thank you for helping him back to his senses and making sure no harm came to him while he was out of it. I told him it was my duty and pleasure.
The last thing he said was that he would be ok and that he would continue to check in on me from time to time. He told me that I was going to be ok, too!
All’s Well That Ends Well
With one more blink of his little eyes, he stood up straight and flew out of my hand. He flew the signature 45 degree woodpecker climb way up into one of our tallest trees! THAT is when I was sure he was going to be ok. The confirmation came when I saw him out on my peanut feeder again and fussing back and forth with his mate. My heart was full of joy. There is no other way to put it!
As we journey through this life, it’s so important that we check in and really pay attention to where we are and what we’re doing. I’ve tried to make sure we have our feeders and water far enough away from our house that most birds that do strike our windows rarely do it from very far away. The biggest threat is the patio to the back glass door. Ultimately, I think that’s one of the reasons he did so well.
Still, I could have stayed ensnared in my little routine and either ignored or not heard the window strike. I am so glad I chose to pay attention and respond! I know BOTH of us are better for the experience!
I cannot repay the feeling he gave me as I watched life return to his little body. I has changed me forever!
Let me apologize here for not taking any pictures. I really wanted to but I honestly thought he needed my help more than I needed to capture him digitally. Plus, I was afraid taking a picture of him laying there on his side would somehow negatively affect the outcome. Does that make any sense to you? I was worried capturing him in that state may beg to keep him in that state. Sorry, but that’s just my world view, I guess. How you think about something does impact how it turns out. My first thought in capturing him was almost from a postmortem mindset. I didn’t want to see him as gone before I was sure of it. I stand by my decision too!
Tell Me Your Stories
Have you been touched deeply by your interaction with your back yard friends or other wildlife? Please leave a comment and tell me about it! Then, tell me how it’s affected you. That’s the magic in the interaction for sure!
Enjoy your day,
In my never ending quest to learn more about you, my readers, I like to ask questions. I’m trying to figure out what kind of content you value most or if your interests are all over the map. It would help me be more helpful to you if I knew what level of a birder you are.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to break them down into three categories and then explain what I mean by each. At the end of this, I would appreciate you leaving a comment and telling me which of these categories you fall into and what you’d like to see me cover to help you at your level.
The categories of birder I will discuss are:
Let me explain how I distinguish between these for you.
You may or may not feed birds in your back yard. You enjoy watching them whether you’re home or away. You do get a thrill from just watching them and listening to them. You may or may not own binoculars or a field guide of any kind. You do not plan trips to observe birds or belong to any community that does this. You are quite happy to let nature present itself to you without any effort on your part.
You definitely feed birds in your back yard. You have more than one feeder almost certainly with different types of food offered. You keep up with the filling and cleaning of your feeders. You own a pair of binoculars that you use to watch birds in your back yard or whenever you get out into nature. You probably put out nest boxes in the spring as well and monitor them to see how they’re doing. You probably feed your birds (they are your birds, aren’t they-LOL!) so as to discourage your feeders being overrun by aggressive and nuisance birds. This is the category I fall into, by the way. You know where to buy food and feeders without being taken for a ride but you do value the advice of the birding stores when you need it. You may even plan trips just to birdwatch but most of the time you’re just watching and observing what’s happening in your own back yard. That way, you’ll stay a step ahead of any problem BEFORE it becomes a problem.
I will admit this category is the one I need the most help in defining. Most of what I describe here comes from my perception of this class and not direct experience. Please feel free to help me better define this birder, ok? Here goes.
You may or may not feed birds in your back yard. You DO spend a lot of time learning about different species. You have a life list of birds you add to every year. You belong to a birding society or club and meet with other birders probably monthly to compare notes and experiences. You purchase travel based on where you want to be birding. You do birding tours. You have mobile field guides, video equipment and any of the gear one would need for venturing out into the wild looking for a particular species of bird. You are thrilled when you find what you are looking for but just as excited to find something you didn’t expect that’s not very common. You try to keep yourself to an annual budget but have no problem making some sacrifices in order to keep your busy birding schedule.
Here is the one place I do share with you: your non-birding friends think you are nuts and your birding friends respect your commitment to the cause.
You are an active environmental contributor or member of such a group. You understand how fragile this earth is and how much we need to do to save it. Not just for the birds but for all mankind.
How Have I Done?
Did you feel a kinship to any of the categories I described here? Do you think I sold anybody short? Do I just not “get” any of these? I’m well aware that most of you will fall into all of these for different reasons. My goal is to help me think more in terms of which category MOSTLY describes you so I can draw a better conclusion as to what you need from me. Please help me by leaving a comment and letting me know how I’ve done here and, if you would, tell me a little about which of these describes you the best.
First In, Last Out Is NOT Just For Accounting
With tax season well under way, I had to sneak in a quick post about my approach to keeping sparrows and other nuisance birds at bay. It has to do with how smart birds are and how you can use that to your advantage. It IS possible to train the birds you want while discouraging those you don’t. Sometimes, all you have to do is change the schedule on them.
Let me explain.
The Setup: The Birds Invade
Somewhere near the middle of January, I noticed I was starting to see the occasional house sparrow at my main feeder. It was still cold so I didn’t pay attention at first. In what seemed like no time at all, it was a few at the feeder. Shortly after this, I started hearing a lot of chirping going in in the bush near the fence in the back yard. Sure enough, when I focused on the feeder long enough I could see there was a regular stream of sparrows sneaking in for a seed and retreating back to the bush. One quick count had the number at already over ten birds doing this. That is when I decided to make a plan.
I knew we had at least a little more cold weather to come and I didn’t want to harm the birds that depend on me. Sometimes you just have to bide your time. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t working on a method that was just as sneaky as the sparrows-LOL!
The Opportunity Presents Itself
Even though it pained me to watch them flitting and chirping and generally making nuisances of themselves, I waited for my opportunity.
And then, it came.
We got a warm snap that allowed me to put into action the plan I had used in some form many times in the thirteen years I’ve been feeding birds. It has to do with when you put your feeders out. As the name would suggest, the best way I’ve found to thwart nuisance birds is to use their daily flocking patterns against them. Here’s how.
First In, Last Out Explained
Grackles, starlings and sparrows all tend to flock together in the winter time as do many birds. My other birds (cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, woodpeckers, etc.) not so much. They also tend to be more active and seeking out feeders in the main part of the day. My other birds start way before these flocks get active and finish up long after the others have bedded down for the night.
So, what I started doing was waiting until nearly sunset to put out my feeders and take them down just after sun up. That way, they get plenty to eat before the long night and can start off their day right before I take them down. With cardinals, for example, by the time the sun is truly up, they’ve been eating for an hour or so. This works out great for this process.
Before long, I noticed a decrease in general sparrow traffic and perching in my bush. Don’t get me wrong. It’s NOT immediate. They are very intelligent. That’s why they’ve survived as well as they have. But even they have no use for a roosting spot that has no food available for them. Over the course of about a week, I saw their numbers dwindle to nothing. I knew I had made progress.
One day, I felt particularly sorry for my faithful cardinals and decided to put the feeders out early. BIG mistake! Within minutes, it was looking out there nearly like it did before I started. I had miscalculated when the sparrows stopped making their rounds and that’s what happened.
No worries. Pulled down the feeder and stayed steadfast with my plan until they were gone again. Several times I heard them getting in the bushes and around my house but-say it with me-they won’t stay if there’s no food!
Fast Forward To Today
Now, I’ve got all my birds trained to expect the feeders around sunset. I’ve heard almost no sparrow chirping around my house nor have I seen any at my feeders. I’ve even forgotten to take them down until much later and they’re still nowhere to be seen. I really believe they have moved on. I’m a happy feeder again-LOL!
If you have birds coming to your feeders you don’t want and don’t feel like messing with changing food constantly (which really doesn’t work that well for starlings and sparrows anyway) then give the first in, last out method a try. Let me know how you do with it. If you found this article helpful, please share it on your favorite social media network using the buttons provided. Also, leave me a comment to tell me how it worked for you or any questions you may have. That’s what I’m here for!
One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who feed birds is their feeders are being overrun by this bird or another. Usually, it’s the grackles, starlings, sparrows or even crows. While I completely identify with their plight, I do believe this happens because the birder has not decided on what feeding style to use?
Feeding Style Explained
I take great pride that for thirteen years as of this writing I have been able to enjoy my back yard feeding. By “enjoy” I mean I’ve been able to feed (and encourage their populations) the birds that I want in my back yard. I made this decision the first time I looked out at my feeders when I first started and noticed it had been overtaken by a huge flock of grackles. Nothing else could get anywhere near the feeder including on the ground. Since that time, I’ve made it my mission to keep the birds that I want to feed returning while discouraging others that don’t really need my help. In a future article, I’ll talk about things you can do to craft the birds’ feeding experience in YOUR back yard. For now, let me just give you some feeding style examples.
This is me to a tee! I’m a spiritual person and I do believe all of the birds deserve to eat and continue living. The difference with the other styles is that I don’t believe that I need to be the one to feed ALL of them! Whether this sounds stuffy or mean or selfish, I don’t apologize for it one bit! It’s my back yard, time and money and I’ll use all of them so that I enjoy watching my birds feed! This includes using restrictive feeders, specific seed and actively discouraging the invasive species whenever I can. This does NOT include harming any bird in any way. It’s just a feeding style where I make available food that the birds I want to encourage in a feeder style that precludes the feeder station from being overrun by the more aggressive and invasive species.
As the name implies, this feeding style has some overall goals but doesn’t keep to a strict feeding methodology. An example of this is making peanut pieces available for your woodpeckers and titmice but not putting them in a feeder that discourages larger birds from taking all of it. Or, a specific feeder that may accidentally allow hoarding by a species you want in your yard but don’t want it parked on it all day eating everything. An example of this is the safflower experiment I tried many years back. I had read that grackles and crows do not like safflower so I filled my two-sided hopper feeder with it. Within a week of doing this, mourning doves were parking their butts on both sides and refusing to allow anything to eat until they were done. Which, by the way, could be an hour or more!
The problem I see with this feeding style is if it isn’t carefully thought out, it will simply degrade into the last feeding style of “Free For All”.
Free For All
This is the feeding style that I hear the most complaints from. They’ve bought their beautiful new bird bath, feeder station (with multiple arms) and stocked their feeders with most bird’s favorite black oil sunflower seed. Within days, their feeders are being emptied daily and the mess under the feeders is unbelievable! They’re desperate to see some cardinals or even blue jays again. These birds will only hang around if they can actually get food there. Otherwise, especially cardinals, will just make themselves scarce.
Again, this is what happened to me the first time I put my feeder out. So, I can totally sympathize with people who have this happen to them. Sometimes, we just got bad advice by an overzealous birding store employee. Sometimes, we just ignored their advice and did what we thought would work (and was cheaper usually-LOL!). Either way, this feeder style really doesn’t even qualify as one because the net effect is that whatever happens, happens. As you can probably tell, this is NOT a style I think most people should go for if they really want to enjoy their back yard bird feeding experience.
What’s Coming Up?
In a future article, I’ll break down some simple things you can do to make your back yard feeding experience as pleasant as possible. I’ll try to use the quicker and cheaper options whenever possible but sometimes you have to realize that we’re all here on this planet for a short time. There’s no reason to spend it disliking what’s going on in your back yard, you know?
How About You?
What feeding tips and tricks can you share that’s allowed you to maintain your sanity, budget and feeding experience? Leave me a comment below and tell me what’s working for you and what’s been a HUGE failure too. We can all learn from each other’s mistakes. Also, if you’ve enjoyed this post please share it on your favorite social media platform using the buttons below.
Bluebird season is right around the corner!
As winter moves across the country, we all see more challenges feeding our birds. One of the main challenges is providing water. If you’re able to provide water where you can plug in a bird bath heater, that’s great! Especially, if you’re able to have your bath far enough away from the house to reduce the chance of window strikes when the occasional predators come by. For me, the bird bath is almost at the back of our property where there is enough cover for birds to flee to if they have to. Unfortunately, this means running a long extension cord which is not practical or safe when snow and freezing rain hits.
My Process Is Simple
I’ve been feeding birds in my back yard for thirteen years next month. I figured out a long time ago I was going need a way to get liquid water out once a day since I couldn’t have a bird bath heater. My solution: a rubber mallet. That’s right, the same thing you’d use to put your hubcaps back on. When I go out to feed my birds I take the mallet with me. I then just unscrew the bath from its pedestal, set it on the ground edgewise and bang away! I have a resin bird bath so I’ve got to be careful about cracking it but this will work with any kind of bird bath.
You don’t have to break up every piece of ice either. In fact, I would recommend you keep whatever doesn’t fall out easily just so you don’t risk cracking the bath.
What If My Bath Doesn’t Unscrew?
No problem! You can safely break up the ice with the bath upright. Just take the broken pieces out as you go. The only caution I would give you here is if you do have a one piece resin bath, make sure NOT to hit it hard enough to break the bath away from the pedestal. I’d also advise that you remove the ice you loosen rather than trying to break it up further by striking it after it’s loose. You can start on the light end of contact and hit a little harder until you find the force that cracks the ice well before you’re damaging your bath.
Why Not Use A Regular Hammer?
Good question. The answer can be explained by having you visualize something. Imagine you have a five pound weight in one hand that you want to lay on top of your other hand. If that weight is spread out in the form of a plate, you can safely place it on top of your other hand without injury. If, on the other hand (pardon the pun) the weight is a three foot long spike, I’m pretty sure you’re going to get hurt putting that on your other hand. So, without any messy physics lesson here, let’s just agree a bigger surface and a substance that also absorbs as it spreads out the force is best. Hence, the rubber mallet to the rescue! I’ve not tested this theory but I’m pretty sure a regular hammer can crack any surface it strikes or at least put a hole in it. That’s death for the bath.
The Added Bonus
The cool thing about the rubber mallet is that it can be used for other back yard feeding tasks. Have freezing rain on a feeder? You can probably knock if off with the mallet without worrying about damaging it. Just this morning, I had my Brome Squirrel Buster that was not letting anything get peanuts because the frozen rain was putting weight on the feeder and causing it to close off. Just a few taps around it got it working again. Closing for squirrels but letting woodpeckers get some much needed food.
What Tricks Do You Have Up Your Sleeve?
Do you have something you’ve been doing for years in your back yard that you think others could benefit from? Tells us about it by leaving a comment below! Also, if you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to share it with others, please use the buttons below to send it to your friends and family who are bird feeders.
Enjoy your time with your back yard friends! All of them!