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What’s Your Back Yard Feeding Style?

feeding styleOne 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.

Selective

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.

Semi-Restrictive

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!

Enjoy,

Jeff

One Of A Bird Feeder’s Best Friends

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!

Jeff

 

Happy Holidays from BirdOculars!

I hope the holidays this year find you well and eager to help your back yard friends enjoy the season just as much!

I’ve got some changes in store for you for 2016 so stay tuned!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas

 

Maggie hopes you get a lot of new toys this year!

maggie toy

Best always,

Jeff

 

My Squirrel Adventures

Long Time Feeder. First Time Complainer

squirrel eatingAs many of you may already know, I’ve been feeding squirrels in my back yard pretty much ever since I’ve been feeding birds. They’ve presented challenges at various times because they’re so unbelievably intelligent. In fact, most of the stories I’ve read of peoples’ problems with squirrels have stemmed from them underestimating them in some way. My squirrel mantra is simple: they WILL figure it out. Period. No matter what the problem is. They will eventually work out a solution if one is available. Thinking that they’ll just give up if you challenge them is just foolhardy. Making something more difficult for them only deepens their resolve. I swear this is true.

Let me give you a few short examples. When I first started feeding birds I put up the standard pole system because I didn’t know how many squirrels are in this area. Our property backs up to woods and I should have suspected this but I was new to birding. I think it was probably a day or two after I saw the first squirrel and figured climbing up a metal pole would be herculean. You know how this turns out. Next thing I see is Mr./Mrs. Squirrel comfortably resting in my hopper feeder ledge and munching away. Talked to the Wild Birds Unlimited people and they suggested baffles. Put them on. Problem solved. For now.

Over the next year, the trees in our yard grew and the limbs jutted out over the feeder station. The closest branch was at least twenty feet above the station. Again, I reckoned that would be a death defying drop so I made no immediate plans to prune anything back. That was until I was working away in my office and heard a loud thump in the back yard. That’s right. It was a squirrel that had lined up his leap and (without a parachute or wings of any kindj-LOL) dropped himself an insane distance on to the feeder and stuck the landing to boot! All he needed to do is hang over onto the feeder ledge and he was snackin’ aplenty. Pruning happened soon after.

My final example should give you a much better idea of what you’re up against. I had put up a squngee to feed them corn from a cob while amusing us with their theatrical gymnastics. For those of you who don’t know what a squngee is, it’s basically a chain with a spring loaded wire attached to it that allows the squirrels to jump on it and bounce all over the place while they get their corn. It’s hilarious to watch! For some reason, it took them almost a week to figure it out but once they did, it was hilarious!

A month or so later,  I noticed one of the squirrels was perching above the squngee looking like they were working out a physics problem. They’d look, try hanging down a little, get back up, look some more, scale down the chain and back up. It looked like they were dumbfounded as to what to do. The next day when I went out to feed them, I saw the squngee draped over the branch and empty. I first thought the spring had just whipped it back up. Since there were other branches near where the chain was, I didn’t think any more of it. I put another corn cob on it and went about my day.

The next day, as I was just watching the wildlife in my back yard I discovered something that to this day still blows me away. It was a squirrel out there on that squongee limb PULLING THE CORN COB UP TO THEM! I kid you not. So, I figured out a way to attach a 2.5 lb weight to the line and the squongee has been used as it was designed ever since.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a challenge as much (or more) than the next guy. I also really enjoy watching these little hoodlums play and fight with each other. I mean who can keep from smiling when they see two squirrels running circles up a tree trunk while chasing each other? As long as there was no major threat to me or my home I was ok with it.

The Attic Is The Line In The Sand

Earlier this year, I had noticed what seemed like an unusual amount of traffic in the gutters coming from the side of my house around back where my office looks out. There was no digging sound or any reason to think they were trying to get into my attic. I just decided to note it and pay attention like I’ve talked about elsewhere in this blog. Besides, they have a “squirrel highway” in back that connects the trees in my to nearly all of the trees accessible from my back yard. It was not uncommon for a squirrel to start in my neighbor’s tree in the front yard, jump on to the roof, off onto my fence and get back to the squirrel box on the fence in back. It was also not unusual for them to go from there to a tree in the woods, over to my other neighbor’s tree and onto their roof. From there, they only need to jump to a small tree on the side of my house to get on my roof again. That would make the back gutter the primary shuttle area to get over to my fence again. Needless to say, traffic was not uncommon.

While traffic wasn’t uncommon, a squirrel staying in one place and moving a short distance back and forth WAS uncommon. Just in case, I called the man who does yard work and odd jobs for us to see if he could come out, clean the gutters and check this area of the gutters out. He came out and told me something had been trying to get in there and he chicken wired it so they couldn’t. Do you know it has taken almost a month for the traffic in this area to return to normal? Every morning, they would come by and see if anything had changed. Luckily, the chicken wire has held. I’ll have the man come back out to check it soon but we’re not hearing anything suspicious. Again, the amount of determination they have should keep anybody from ever selling their smarts short.

A Wire Feeder In Time Saves…

One day a couple of months ago I had one other significant run in with a squirrel. I was downstairs reading after knocking off for the day and I heard what sounded like a squirrel running on the roof above our den. Again, this was not unusual so I paid it no mind. Then, I could hear little footsteps that sounded a LOT closer than on the roof. Shortly after that, the clincher: digging sound coming from what must have been beams in the attic. Knowing I needed to take quick action, I banged on the walls and ceiling and she left. I didn’t hear anything more that day but also was positive there had been what I call incursion. She had gotten in and steps needed to be taken!

The next day, I got up on a ladder and spotted the place she had gotten in. I was able to take a wire peanut feeder, crush it, insert it into the hole, secure it with the hanging wires to my gutter and then leave it. Later that day, I saw a squirrel up near it. I yelled at her and she jumped on to my fence and started toward the back fence. She had nesting materials in her mouth. Deciding that I wasn’t a real threat to her, she ran back towards me, back up the house to that point in the gutter. I asked her where she was going and you should have seen her expression when she thought she was going to slip back in that hole and found the feeder blocking it! It was priceless! Since that day, there has not been any more trouble out of them.

Your Choices

For those of you who are thinking, why didn’t you just call an animal removal specialist? To be honest, I did and I would have gone with one if my solutions hadn’t worked. My major hurdle: the price. I know peace of mind has a value and I wouldn’t be worrying about the cost if I had been overrun by them. I’d take the hit and move on. The main reason besides that I didn’t go with one yet is that our gutters need replaced. I’d rather pay somebody to fix those areas correctly than somebody who would just screw on some metal or mesh on it. If there is eave, soffit or fascia wood that needs replaced, they’ll see it.

Until then, I’ll keep my eyes and ears peeled. I think they’ve made their beds for the winter wherever they are but I won’t underestimate them again!

What About You?

I know I’m not the only person out there who’s had a run in with squirrels. Tell me your stories by leaving a comment below. Let me know how you dealt with them and what success you’ve had. Also if you’ve found this article entertaining, please share it on your favorite social media platform by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.

Enjoy your back yard oasis!

Jeff

Here’s a short squirrel video which I think illustrates my point pretty well.

Where Have All My Goldfinches Gone?

My Experience With Goldfinches Before 2015

 

Nearly every year since 2003, the first year I started feeding birds, I’ve had goldfinches in my back yard. Sure, there have been some years where they were heavier than others. I made a recording in May of 2011 where they were massing in the woods behind our property and the din was almost deafening. Have a listen.

Other than that year, the pattern was the same: they would become regular visitors during the winter, taper off a bit in the summer, disappear when plants got to seeding stages in late August and come back again for the fall/winter rush. This year that has not been the case at all.

american-goldfinchesThis year, due to some seed I purchased at Walmart which I believe had been stored improperly, I started out with very inconsistent results. I kept finding them on my sunflower seed feeders and not so much on their thistle feeders. I knew the feeders were clean and the seed was recently purchased so I just wrote it up to an anomaly of sorts.

Finally, I decided to see if there could be a problem with the seed. I asked my local Wild Birds Unlimited buddy what she’d been hearing. She said nothing struck her about the goldfinch reports she’d been getting from customers and gave me a small bag of thistle to try in my feeder. I could see her seed was shinier than mine which I knew meant oilier too. Do I have to tell you what happened?

Of course, within two days of putting out the new seed the feeders were covered up with goldfinches. I said my apologies to them for holding out on them and got ready to buy a new bag of thistle. Anybody that feeds birds will tell you how hard it is to throw away seed but I knew what I had to do. I threw some of it on my patio for the mourning doves but they didn’t go crazy about it and I knew it would take me way too long to get rid of it that way. So, I dumped it and moved on.

Still Not Here To Stay

After I replaced the old seed with the new the traffic picked up significantly for a while. Maybe a month or so. Then, I started noticing a tapering off when they should be settling in for the summer. I checked and cleaned my feeders one more time just to be sure. No effect on the traffic. So, pretty much from June or July of this year I’ve seen very spotty traffic back there and I can’t explain it. So, I’ve come to ask for your help.

What Has YOUR Goldfinch Traffic Been Like in 2015?

If you could leave me a comment below and tell me where you live and what your goldfinch experience has been like in 2015, I’d love to hear your feedback! I’m baffled. The only change that’s happened this year is we had a tree just behind our property get split and had to be severely pruned. I should mention this tree is not directly near the goldfinch thistle feeders but I did consider just the change in the backyard cover may have spooked them. The only problem with that idea is I think they started tapering off long before the tree was even damaged in the storm this summer. Anything you can share would be appreciated. Also, if you could like this post on Facebook or share it on twitter maybe we could get even more input.

Best,

Jeff

When Survival Seems Unfair

The Intelligence At Work

Young CardinalSometimes, we birders have to witness things that break our hearts. Nestlings getting killed by birds competing for the space. Seeing the odd bird dead on the side of the road while walking our dogs. Seeing squirrels who’ve been hit in the road. The list goes on. What keeps us going is we know that these things are all part of the beauty we see and enjoy every day. We know the Universe has different plans than we can ever hope to know for the creatures we love and watch every day. We understand that there is give and take that we just won’t ever understand.

That is not to say that it still doesn’t make us sad!

A Familiar Sound

It was about ten o’clock in the morning this past Thursday. I was downstairs going about some daily activity I can’t recall. Then, I heard it. The familiar squawk of the blue jays in nearly perfect unison. And it wasn’t just one or two either. It sounded like the blue jay choral director was tuning them up for a performance. This went on for more than a couple minutes and then it stopped. From my experience, I knew this is generally NOT a good sign because I’ve heard blue jays go on like this until they’ve driven the offender out of their territory. A quick glance out the window showed there were not any birds to be seen on the feeders, in the bath or in the nearby tree branches.

Then, I saw him.

Standing Majestically

Standing not ten feet from the feeder station was a very large adult Cooper’s Hawk. Just standing there. At first, I thought he was just recovering from an unsuccessful attack near the feeder. However, he had something about him that seemed a little too proud and contented. Don’t ask me what it was. Maybe just his stance that gave it away. I tried not to let him see me and I think I was successful. I looked closer at him and I thought it looked like he was standing on something. I couldn’t tell for sure because leaves had fallen and our grass was a little overdue for mowing. He just stood there for a few minutes while I admired him.

If Wishes Were Horses

I wished very hard that I didn’t see anything under him but that was not to be.

Before another minute passed, he heaved his huge body up into flight and then I saw it. He was carrying an immature male cardinal in his talons. Lifeless it just hung from him as he flew into the woods behind our house to enjoy his mid morning snack. I felt a quick twinge of sorrow on seeing this because I had seen these guys kicking around in the grass beneath the feeder before this. I know it was because they don’t rank and are probably kept off the feeder by their elders. I remember thinking one time before as I watched on foraging a little distance from the feeder that it wasn’t a good idea. I’m so sorry to be right at times, you know?

Reframing The Incident

Times like these it is very easy to just feel bad for the little one who just hadn’t learned THAT lesson yet. The more I thought about it, the more my mind was put at ease. Here are a few of my immediate takeaways:

  • We’ve had a bumper crop of cardinals this year and this was an unavoidable consequence that wasn’t anybody’s fault. If I had twenty more feeders up, he would still not have ranked to be up on it most likely.
  • He probably served as the example for cardinal parents to tell their children “Be careful where you feed. Remember what happened to little Billy.”
  • He was killed and eaten by a predator who had a real need for survival. He didn’t give his life to entertain some poor feral cat who had no intention of eating him.

I’m not saying that it makes easy for us. I’m just hopeful that I have any understanding of the grand scheme of life on this planet. I do believe everything happens for a reason whether we know that reason or not. It’s all about trust for me. I trust in a higher power and the Universe to keep all these forces working in a way that makes sense for them if not us. That we’ll be ok with how it all plays out.

Are you ok with this? Let me know if this story has struck a chord in you by leaving a comment below.