My bird feeders have been empty for several months. I have my excuses – I was out of town four weeks of the summer, I was busy, there were plenty of bugs for the birds to eat and blah blah blah – but the fact of the matter is that I just got lazy. I’ve been a backyard bird feeder and watcher since we moved into our house eleven years ago but some kind of lethargy set in back in late spring, and I’ve been letting my birdie buddies fend for themselves.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed that a couple of my bird feeders were looking pretty low-rent – it was so dry and hot all summer that several of the wooden ones had begun to split and splinter. The arrival of a coupon for ten bucks from my local bird store coincided with my embarrassment over my status as the feeder slumlord, as well as a desire to see my bird friends again, so yesterday the feeders underwent a massive overhaul. I threw out one large and one small hopper feeder, plus a large seed-catching tray. All were dry and splintery, and I was embarrassed to see cobwebs inside one of them. The remaining feeders were cleaned out, and then it was off to the bird store. I spent about an hour looking at all the various designs and chatting with the saleswoman. I was hoping to replace my wooden hopper feeders with ones made of recycled plastics, but to my surprise the store carried very few, and when I quizzed the saleswoman, she said that they used to carry them but they just sat on the shelves. I found one shaped something like an acorn and bought that, and replaced my large hopper and seed-catching tray with a single unit, painted in pleasingly subtle shades of red and green. Once home, I installed the new feeders on their poles and filled all the various feeders from the big galvanized feed can that lives under the deck.
Note to self – buy more bird food. I am finicky about what I put out for my birds; so many of the mixes that you buy at Wally World and its ilk contain filler like wheat and milo, which most birds don’t eat. What they do with it is flick it aside (read: onto the ground, where it either molds or attracts mice) and go for the stuff they like. Most birds will take sunflower seed; many like millet and shelled peanuts and cracked corn. I also dish out safflower seed, which many birds like but is unappealing to those pests of the bird-feeding world: house sparrows, starlings and squirrels. I have a special feeder for nyger seed, which goldfinches go mad for, and I also put out suet and woodpecker cakes for the woodpeckers. I buy my seed already hulled, which means there’s no accumulation of moldy shells under my feeders, and I also like to buy each kind of seed separately, rather than one huge bag of mixed seed.
This is the first of my two feeding stations. The other one is a small dogwood to the right of the photo; in the dogwood are two hanging trays, which contain safflower seed, and one upside-down suet cake feeder.
From the left, you can see my new hopper feeder/seed tray combination, which is filled with hulled sunflower and peanuts. On the carousel pole to the right is the acorn-shaped feeder (peanuts), a tube feeder (nyger seed), a suet cake cage (right now containing an extremely nutty cake) and a woodpecker cake cage. With the exception of the nyger feeder, the carousel pole is dedicated to my tree-clinging birds – woodpeckers, nuthatches and the like.
After overhauling the feeding areas, I scrubbed out both the birdbaths in the yard and filled them, thus figuratively putting out the “vacancy” sign. All this was done by about 2 PM yesterday, and I expected the birds to come flocking.
But they didn’t. Birds have short memories (and sometimes, short lives), and my feeders had been empty for a while. It made me feel sad to see the feeders sitting there, clean and full, but with no visitors. I kept checking on them through the afternoon, but the only visitor was a crow, which sat in a tree at the back of the yard for a good half hour late in the afternoon, cawing. Crows and other members of the corvid family (ravens and jays) are the brainiacs of the bird world, and I feel certain this single crow was announcing that food was available in the area. However, in spite of their size, crows are extremely wary birds, and they almost never approach my feeders because they’re too close to the house for comfort. When John came home from work and I met him on the kitchen stoop, the crow flew away. It was the only bird I saw near the feeders all day.
This morning I began to feel more hopeful. Through a steady rain, three more crows came and landed in the dead tree in my neighbor’s yard close to my house, where they had a chuckling, cawing conversation as they eyed my feeding stations. I felt certain that their activity would attract other birds, but eventually they flew away. Then, as the rain lightened to a drizzle, I began to hear bird calls in the area. I went to the deck doors and as I watched the feeding stations, I saw a flick of feathers in the dogwood. A tufted titmouse dropped down into one of the safflower trays, picked up a seed and flew off, in that odd dipping and rising flight pattern that typifies members of the paridae family. I knew that once one titmouse had found the seed, others would follow, along with the black-capped chickadees they hang with. Sure enough, a few minutes later I saw two chickadees in the hanging tray, and I felt better.
The birds haven’t yet discovered the mid-yard feeding station, but I know that it’s just a matter of time. I’m most eager to see the woodpeckers again; I know they’re in the area (the neighbor’s dead tree is a big attraction), but it’s always a pleasure to see them up close. So come on back, birds – I’m waiting for you.