Making feeders selective without unwanted visitors

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If you’re bothered by pigeons, crows, or starlings at your feeders, I have three solutions.

The no-cost answer is to simply welcome all birds to your backyard. I reject this option because I’d rather see and feed cardinals, woodpeckers, and chickadees than pigeons, crows, and starlings.

Another solution is to use feeders that physically exclude unwanted visitors. Droll Yankees Shelter Feeders, for example, are tubes enclosed in a cage. Only birds small enough to pass through the mesh can get to the food; bigger birds are excluded.

Do-it-yourselfers can make their own excluder devices with chicken wire.

Think big

If you think big, build a size-selective feeding station. It could be free standing, or you could attach it to an existing porch, deck, or even a wall of the house.

The concept is simple. Build a frame, eight feet on a side, and cover it with chicken wire.

Begin by sinking four treated 4-by-4, 10-foot posts 24 inches into the ground on the corners of an 8-foot square.

Connect the top corners with 2-by-4s to form the frame.

Add several 2-by-4s on each side for support, and frame in a door on one side to permit access into the enclosure to fill the feeders.

Stabilize the top with two or three more 2-by-4 cross pieces, and attach large screw-in hooks at 18-inch intervals.

Suspend hanging feeders from these hooks. Then cover the entire structure with chicken wire, sized to exclude bigger birds or squirrels.

If pigeons, crows, or squirrels are the problem, a larger mesh will suffice. If starlings are your nemesis, use a smaller mesh. Small ground feeders such as juncos and native sparrows will eat the seed that falls to the ground from the hanging feeders, so nothing will go to waste.

You may prefer to make your enclosure larger or attach it to the side of the house. You may want to use 2-by-2s and anchor the entire structure to the ground with guy wires rather than sinking the corner posts into the ground. Or you may choose to place it right next to a favorite viewing window to create a mini-aviary.

Be creative, and design a plan that works for your backyard.

Targeting birds

To make your selective feeding station even more attractive to target birds, consider these options: position the enclosure next to dense vegetation to moderate wind, driving rain, and blowing snow; cover the top with conifer boughs, a tarp, or a piece of plywood to provide cover for the birds and protect the feeders from rain and snow; place several dead branches inside the enclosure as perches for hungry birds; in the center of the enclosure, build a multi-level platform for small ground feeders.

On top of two large concrete blocks positioned in the center of the enclosure, place a 3-by-3-foot piece of 3/4-inch exterior plywood. Anchor that piece with two more concrete blocks and cover with another piece of plywood. Then add two more blocks and one more piece of plywood. Anchor the top piece of plywood with another large block.

You now have a four-level platform feeder. Each level is protected from the elements by the one above it. The concrete blocks keep it stable.

An enclosed feeding station may seem like a lot of work, but it will selectively keep larger birds and mammals from dominating your feeders.

Other options

Another selective feeder that’s easy to make is a woodpecker suet tree. It consists of a 4-by-4 post anchored in the ground. If the ground is frozen, you can strap the post to a tree trunk.

On the top half of the post, drill a series of 3/4-inch deep holes about two inches in diameter on two sides of the post. Space the holes about 12 inches apart. Using only the two sides of the post visible from the viewing window prevents birds from hiding on the back side of the post. Then fill the holes with suet or peanut butter.

Soft recipes can simply be smeared into the holes. Harder suet blocks must be pressed or even hammered into the holes.

Woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches will find the suet tree in no time.

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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. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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