New bird cage feeder meets expectations

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bird feeder
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

Back in December, I wrote about my new feeding station I call the Bird Cage. It is an enclosure designed to exclude deer and raccoons.

The walls and top consist of grid panels of 2-inch by 2-inch heavy-duty wire mesh that allows birds to pass freely, but keeps larger animals out. Though the materials cost about $350, I’m happy with the results. It works. Not a single deer or raccoon has entered the bird cage, so only birds eat the seed I provide. During the day, I’ve occasionally felt a twinge of guilt when I see deer look longingly at the well-stocked feeders.

Provides protection

But I know that the cage is paying for itself. And the cage prevents raccoons from taking feeders into the woods under the cover of darkness.

My first concern about the bird cage was whether the mesh panels would discourage birds from entering. They did not. Within minutes of filling the feeders, chickadees, titmice and goldfinches used the feeders. The chickadees and goldfinches are so small they flew directly through the mesh unimpeded. Titmice and white-breasted nuthatches perched on the mesh before entering.

After a few days, all my regular backyard birds used the bird cage. Mourning doves are chunky birds, so I wondered if they might have trouble getting in and out. I didn’t see a dove in the cage until about a week after I set it up. And when I startled it, it flew about erratically trying to escape.

After about 10 seconds it perched on a horizontal piece of mesh and simply flew right out. This happened quite a few times until the doves seemed to remember how to escape.

Earlier this week, I discovered a dove having a hard time trying to leave the cage. Occasionally it perched on a feeder to rest. I suspected it might be an individual on its first visit to the bird cage. So I opened the door and entered the cage to help it out. At that point it flew to the ground and just walked right through the mesh. The dove’s learning curve may be steeper than smaller birds, but eventually they find the easy way out.

Various foods

I offer a variety of foods in the cage to attract a variety of birds. Black-oil sunflower seeds, sunflower kernels, peanuts, and suet attract the birds I’ve already mentioned.

Other visitors include cardinals, blue jays, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, song sparrows, tree sparrows, white-throated sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, house finches and purple finches. When I add mealworms to the menu in the spring, I expect bluebirds, robins, Carolina wrens, house wrens, catbirds, towhees and maybe a few warblers and vireos to join the list of visitors.

One of the best features of this feeding station is that I can sit on a chair inside the cage with the birds. In just a few minutes, they accept my presence and freely come and go.

Fingertip feeding

If I put a few peanuts or sunflower kernels on my outstretched hand, chickadees and nuthatches have already accepted my offerings. Nothing beats having a wild, free-flying chickadee sit on your fingertip, look you in the eye, and then grab a seed from the palm of your hand.

It’s a magical moment that ranks near the top of my outdoor experiences. One of these days I’m hoping for a blue jay to take a peanut. On the down side, however, there is the mess. All my feeders now occupy a footprint that measures just six by eight feet.

Bird droppings and seed hulls accumulate quickly. My solution is to rake the bottom of the cage twice a week. It’s easy to scoop the debris through the mesh to keep the cage floor relatively clean. When it warms up, I’ll gather all the waste into a compost pile. I admit that when I conceived the idea for the bird cage, I wasn’t sure it would be worth the cost.

Good investment

Now I consider the investment money well spent. My only remaining concern is that a bear finds the cage when it leaves its winter den.

There’s no way it’s bear proof.

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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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