Understanding bird feeders

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Last week I spent two days at a wild bird products trade show in Missouri. It’s a great way to see new products, but I was reminded that truly new feeder designs are hard to find.

Improvements and variations on a theme, however, are never in short supply. Any discussion of bird feeders should begin with the fact that all backyard birds, even woodpeckers, will eat seed on the ground.

We bother with the expense and bother of hanging bird feeders to attract birds to places we prefer to watch them. Providing strategically placed feeders is the best way to bring them close to easy chairs and living room windows.

Different birds

And remember, different types of feeders attract different types of birds.

Platform or tray feeders can be as simple as a stump in the backyard or as elaborate as an expensive roofed fly-through feeder. Platform feeders are completely non-exclusive: All birds can use them.

Consequently they are sometimes monopolized by pigeons, doves, blue jays, and squirrels. Many excellent wooden hopper feeders are marketed by a variety of manufacturers. Base your selection on looks and the quality of construction.

I prefer a hopper feeder made from 100 percent recycled plastic boards and assembled with rust-proof screws. The plastic boards look like wood and weather extremely well.

Tube feeders

I’ve had two for more than 10 years, and each time I hose them off, they look like new. Tube feeders come in a variety of sizes and can dispense either sunflower or nyjer seeds, depending on port size. Don’t put seed mixes in tubes. The birds that eat millet and cracked corn, common ingredients of many mixes, are primarily ground feeders and rarely use tubes.

Tubes typically accommodate only birds small enough to use their perches. Aspects and Droll Yankees recently began producing tubes with two significant improvements. U-shaped perches allow birds easy, ergonomic access to food, and easy to remove bottoms make these tubes easy to clean.

The quality of both brands is excellent, and both come with exceptional guarantees. The Squirrel Boss (www.squirrelboss.com) is the most innovative squirrel-proof tube feeder on the market. Solar-powered and remotely controlled, the Squirrel Boss shocks squirrels and sends them scurrying with the push of a button.

And the “All-Weather Feeder” is an oversized tube that is truly weather proof and perfect for dispensing sunflower kernels. Window feeders that attach directly to a window pane are great for kids and anyone who is housebound.

They can bring birds within a few feet of the kitchen sink or dining room table. Bowl feeders hang beneath a squirrel baffle and lack perches. Consequently, only smaller, acrobatic birds with strong clinging feet can use them.

Fill bowls with nuts and sunflower kernels to attract woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches. Droll Yankees’ “Big Top” fills quickly even in cold weather, it holds a lot of seed, and it excludes larger birds such as pigeons, doves, blue jays and grackles. Plastic-coated wire suet baskets are inexpensive and durable, and no backyard should be without one.

Little investment

For less than $10, you can get a simple feeder that lasts forever (unless a raccoon or bear steals it.). Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and creepers are among backyard suet lovers. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, wild birds do not become dependent on feeders because they are highly mobile and naturally use patchy food supplies.

Their survival depends on an innate ability to find unpredictably distributed patches of food. In the course of birds’ daily lives, they visit many different food patches and thus are continually monitoring changing food supplies. Feeders are simply reliable food patches.

Furthermore, though it may seem that birds are at feeders all day long and thus appear to become dependent, observations of banded birds indicate that, though you may see birds at feeders all day long, they are not the same individuals. They move throughout the day to visit many food sources.

New products

The best new product I found at the show was the “Rail Rockit” (www.brbc-nc.com). This is a system of easy to use brackets that lock onto deck rails without using any tools. The brackets can be used to support potted plants, bird feeders, or shelves for displaying planter boxes.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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