Monday, May 16, 2011

Adventures with bird feeders

When I moved to West Seattle last year, I wanted to put up bird feeders.  But I didn't know anything about them.  For many years I lived in urban neighborhoods not at all suited for feeders.  My old neighborhood, in Ballard, was so busy with feral cats that I never wanted to attract more birds. So I was definitely starting from scratch.

I also had a limited budget.  The move strapped finances, so I wasn't ready to sink a lot of money into a new hobby.  I wanted to start as simply and inexpensively as possible.  

With no real idea what I needed, I stopped by the Home Depot.  I had done a little looking online.  The first thing I learned was:  you can spend as much money on bird feeders and paraphernalia as you want.  You can easily spend a fortune.  But I didn't have a fortune.

I'd already had some adventures with the chickadees in my neighborhood.
I also didn't know what kind of feeders I wanted.  Not having much experience, and not knowing what kind of birds to expect, I was stymied by all the choices.  There was only one thing I did know -- there were chickadees in my neighborhood.  Black-capped chickadees, and I had already had some adventures with them.  (I'll tell you more about that later).  So I decided, for a start, to buy feeders that would appeal to chickadees.

Perky-Pet Sierra Wild Bird Feeder
What I ended up with were the cheapest, most versatile feeders I could find.  At the Home Depot I found the Perky-Pet Sierra Wild Bird Feeder.  (See here or here).  They are plastic, pretty cheaply made, but work well and are easy for a beginner to figure out.  I managed to destroy one of them by sitting it on the rail of my deck where it blew off and crashed to the sidewalk below.  But they are versatile -- they can be used both as mixed-feed songbird feeders and as finch-style thistle seed feeders (the feeding ports flip up and down).  I had my first feeder operating almost at once (which I wasn't entirely sure I could do).  And, they are very inexpensive.  They were priced from three to five dollars at different stores.  This turned out to be good, because they suffered a heavy mortality rate in my yard.

Chickadees discovered these feeders quickly.  A day or two after I put them up, the chickadees came calling -- first one or two, then a steady stream.  Dark-eyed Juncos were close behind.  (The Juncos also like eating the seed that falls to the ground underneath.) Over the course of the winter, my feeders (I also added a suet feeder at some point) logged 17 species, a number of which I had never seen before in the wild. (See my "Yard List" here).  

Rock Pigeons were a problem at first, they would raid the feeders and spill all the food, but once we closed up the hole in our attic and evicted the pigeons, they moved on and we didn't have any more problems.  During the coldest part of the winter, Northern Flickers came to visit the feeders.  Seeing them twisting around to eat out the little songbird ports was a comical sight.  (They're even more fond of the suet feeders.)

Enter the villain of the piece.  Sometime during the winter the squirrels in my neighborhood discovered the feeders, and when they did, things got ugly.  First, I noticed that food was disappearing very quickly.  I caught the squirrels lurking around, but I wasn't overly concerned.  I didn't care that much if they ate some of the feed.  Then I started to notice damage to the feeders.  The inexpensive plastic was easy pickings for rodents.  One day, I went out to discover the feeder totally destroyed.  All the perches gnawed off and the ports torn up.  It was especially impressive since I had photos of the feeder from the day before showing it to be whole and intact.  Whoever destroyed it worked fast.

It wasn't long before I caught him in the act.

I tried switching feed to find something less attractive to the squirrels, but the birds didn't like it as much as the mixed fruit and nut type I was using, and the squirrels, now that they had discovered the feeders would not be discouraged.  I started losing feeders at an alarming rate.  Since they are inexpensive, I bought a lot of them, so I could replace them quickly, but it soon became clear that I was losing the war of attrition.  The inexpensive solution was not so inexpensive any more. 

I replaced the Sierra feeders with another model. Birdscapes Copper Festival Mixed Seed Bird Feeder. (See it here, and here). It costs a bit more -- almost twenty dollars at Home Depot.   In design, it's similar to the Perky-Pet model -- a plastic sheath with perches and ports.  But the external parts -- the perches and port openings -- are brass.  Squirrels aren't going to chew them up.  At first, I was afraid that the birds didn't like the new feeder -- there seemed to be a sharp drop in attendance when I put it out.  But within a week they were all back, and I haven't had any complaints since.  I've caught the squirrels on it more than once, but they can't destroy it, which is all I wanted.

I've been happy with the results of these feeders.  Now, with Summer coming on, I want to branch out, try some new kinds of feeders and new locations.

I'll let you know what I find out.


If you like Birdland West, you might also want to check out our sister blog Books and Beasts, which focuses on reviews of books about animals and related topics.

(Many of the original photographs featured on Birdland West are available for sale as art quality prints.  You can check out all of our offerings at If you see an image here that does not show up on our Imagekind site please contact me directly and I'll let you know about availability.)

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