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What Kind of Birder Are You?

birderIn 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:

  • Casual
  • Active
  • Driven

Let me explain how I distinguish between these for you.

Casual

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.

Active

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.

Driven

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.

 

Using The First In, Last Out Method To Foil Sparrows

house sparrowFirst 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 Stumble

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!

Last Words

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!

Jeff

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.