By David Hawke -- Bird feeders are fun and educational, as anyone who has one knows.
And their installation may even be helpful to get the patrons through a tough season of harsh cold and few available weed seeds. Much has been written about the pros and cons of offering an artificial source of food, but that's not the topic of today's column.
When you set out bird seed, your intention is no doubt to attract A-list birds: cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, and maybe a mourning dove or two. B-list birds often include juncos, tree sparrows, and maybe some redpolls. Then come the C-list yahoos: starlings and grackles.
You try black oil sunflower seeds and striped sunflower seeds, give an attempt at a niger seeder, try raw suet and compare the results to those fancy store-bought patty-cakes of fat and seed mixes. Maybe you prefer a plastic gravity-fed tower over a wooden shelf feeder. Some birds come, some don't. But every morning you peer out the window, hoping, maybe, today's the day the cardinals will show up.
One of the perils of bird feeding is that some of the critters that drop by for a snack don't have feathers! Squirrels and raccoons can become quite accustomed to take you up on your offerings, perhaps occasionally causing a bit of trouble with their nibbling of the feeder itself, or by dumping the entire contents on the ground. Darn nuisance these furry beasts.
There is, however, an easy solution to dealing with the non-feathered patrons. Oh, you can try shooing (or even shooting if you live in the right rural setting), or you can spend money on squirrel-proof (says so, right there in the brochure) or raccoon-resistant feeders. Have fun with that, if you can afford it.
The best solution in regards to lowering your squirrel-induced high blood pressure is to 1) maintain your existing feeding stations, 2) just change your attitude as to why these feeders are out there... look at them not so much as "bird" feeders, but more as "wildlife" feeders. Oh, look, a variety of wildlife are using the feeders! You can feel good about that.
Now that you are maintaining a wildlife restaurant, don't be surprised if you notice a cottontail rabbit vacuuming up spilled seeds, or see tracks of meadow vole or white-footed mice that were coming and going during the cover of darkness. If you are really lucky, a white-tailed deer may come by for a gourmet change to its diet.
However, don't get too complacent in your Walt Disney world that's happening outside the living room window. Cue the villains.
Free and easy food is free and easy food. You don't have tell a predator that advice twice. Those that sport fangs, talons or claws will be much obliged to you for luring in all this warm fast food. The downside is that you may lose a few A-list birds, the upside is that you may get to note a barred owl or northern shrike! How cool is that?
Bird-eating birds also include the small sharp-shinned hawk (good-bye chickadees) or the larger goshawk (toodle-oo blue jays). The good news is that the barred owl or goshawk may also knock off a squirrel or garden-raiding cottontail. Ah, the balance of Nature, laid out right there through the double-paned glass of the living room's bay window.
The one bird connoisseur that I haven't mentioned yet is that lovable fur-ball... the cat. Some cats are superb hunters while most are pretty laid back or so spoiled with kibble that exerting energy to get food is really not an option. Before a certain segment of society rises up and sends me some report about how billions of birds are killed by cats, I'll save you the trouble. I've read it, and dismissed it. If the President of the United States can dismiss a climate change report prepared by dozens of scientists with the wave of a hand, well, maybe I'll do that with these 'cats eat birds' rants.
Yes, we have cats, and yes, we have bird feeders. And yes, about once a winter I do find a pile of chickadee feathers in the garage. Not hourly, not daily, not weekly, and not even monthly. And yes, I can sleep at night.
Sorry for the digression; back to the topic of bird feeders. I hope that you have noticed this amazing cycle of nature that revolves around your bird, er, I mean wildlife feeder. A bit of food goes a long way to enticing animals to reveal themselves to us. And we humans have always had a soft spot for trying to domesticate wildlife, haven't we?
If a chickadee should land on your finger while selecting from a handful of offered seeds, bet you can't keep a smile from crossing your face. Just don't let the cat see you doing it.
David's notebook: I hope that the bustle of Christmas shopping hasn't overwhelmed you (yet). Remember, just say "no" to plastic whenever possible. And if you have a library of books you don't really look at anymore... pass them along!
© 2018 David J. Hawke