Feb 15, 2013

Our Backyard Bird Paradise

It's February! And in our homeschool, we are gearing up for the Great Backyard Bird Count! We've recently stocked up on some new feeders, both to replace some that died as well as some that have specialty features.I thought it might be useful to give you a tour. Maybe it will provide some inspiration.
Letting the garden go until spring provides more food and protection.

We have a large, open backyard that leads to a pond in the next field. Our garden was already planted with a variety of shrubs and trees that provide shelter and some natural food. The openness though can be a drawback because of the threat of dive-bombing hawks. Over the last few seasons I've learned to take some precautions.

For one thing,I have situated our feeders much closer to our windows now. I've also persuaded Father R to let us place our old Christmas tree at the base of two feeders to give instant cover from predators and snowfall. He's okay with it now as long as our yard doesn't look like a junk heap. :-D
That the feeders are close to the windows (and we have lots of them), means I need to protect the birds from colliding with the glass. (Incidentally, keeping them close also PROTECTS the birds by preventing them from hitting those windows at top speed should they bolt.)  I have applied these window stickers to the windows to alert them of the invisible plane.On the right is the commonly-found diving predator window cling sticker. It's lasted for years. See how it dissuades a bird from thinking that reflection is more yard? On the left is a less obtrusive invention. The hummingbird is infused with an ultra-violet light substance that only the birds can see. We lowly humans merely see a pretty, frosty sticker. The down-side is they have to be replaced seasonally.

Window stickers protect flying birds.
 Now for the feeders. Knowing that the most popular seed is black oil sunflower I choose feeders that are designed for that especially. The big cylinder feeder on the right is an eight-year-old, tried-and-true all-metal design made of a stiff, heavy screen. The lid lifts up for filling. It holds a  whopping 10 pounds of seed! I won't be needing to re-fill it more than every two weeks! Yes some seed spills through when I fill it, but the ground feeders eat it, so it's not going to waste. The perforated tray allows drainage and a place for larger birds like cardinals to perch. The little birds can cling all over it. 
Only three feet from the window ! What a view and safer for flying birds.

On the left is a new replacement called a No-No feeder, referring to the fact that there is no plastic, and no wood, so it will be long-lasting and stand up to squirrels. We don't have a squirrel problem fortunately. We really only have one who we've named Scugg after the pet that Ben Franklin carried in his pocket to Continental Congress meetings! Scugg does give our feeders a go, however, so I do keep feeder materials and placement in mind. The No-No, which comes in all different sizes and shapes, is unique. While it also is made of  mesh, this one collapses on itself. When you receive it, you just lift the handle and VOILA!, like magic, a feeder! If stored, it will take up No-No space (haha!). A locking lid keeps out the squirrels. The only tricky part is filling it, since you can't just set it on the ground. It would collapse again. Instead I hung it low for filling and used a milk jug that I cut a whole out of. I poured seed into the hole of the jug, and then poured the seed into the feeder from the spout. This one holds about six pounds.

Needless to say, those two  feeders need a STRONG support. I bought this one at a The Wildlife Authority store. It was about $40 USD and has held up well for many years. It is designed for you to custom design the length arms that best serve you. Pretty neat. A good investment.

Additional designs for select feeds increase the variety of birds to the yard
 My Droll Yankee feeder on the top left is a staple. It can hold sunflower or other medium size seed. It's almost indestructable. This one is over ten years old.If you can only afford one feeder, start here. Add a dome at the top and hang it from a light branch, or a baffle on the bottom and affix it to a pole, and you have a virtually squirrel-proof feeder. (I say "virtual" because squirrels are better problem-solvers than MIT professors.) 

He and his buds can eat that whole cake.
The suet feeder on the top right attracts chickadees, nuthatches, and downy woodpeckers. It will also bring on your starlings. We've already had those greedy European devils arrive, a full month early. I've moved it to the tree that grows up through the deck very close to the house. I'm hoping this might foil the gluttons. (Scugg will appreciate the move though.) They make more expensive types that protect the suet, but I'll stick to this for a while.

I'm adding a new type tube thistle feeder this year. This design places the holes BELOW the perches. Some observant birding genius discovered that that other invasive species,  the house finch, can't eat upside down like the beautiful goldfinch, so another problem solved! I'm not real impressed with the quality of this particular one that I ordered, so we'll see how long it lasts. Thistle seed seems to have jumped in price and I only needed a small quantity. My Wild Bird Authority store had 5 pounds in an easy-pour jug for $7.99. I'll get at least three fillings which means more than one season!

Finally, I'm putting up 2 new peanut feeders to give the precious downy woodpeckers and the elegant flickers something new to try. The one feeder is pictured above. The second one is made by C&S of large-holed metal mesh and designed to work with their suet pellets. I found them at Home Depot and the feeder and food came to only $9! I also visited my local Southern States store which has the best prices on a variety of seed, especially bulk items like black-oil sunflower. I picked up a yummy-looking "woodpecker blend" full of peanuts, pistachios, dried fruit and other tasties to fill the one above.

The neighboring pond attracts lots of geese year-round.

Finally, a garden feature everyone should have, especially in winter, is WATER! I mistakenly thought that: 1) with a pond nearby that their liquid needs were met, and 2) that snow on seed would provide an alternative source. Bad idea on both counts. The flight to the pond (or any other distant source) uses up vital fuel that would be better reserved for keeping warm. The snow also burns fuel by cooling the body-the exact opposite thing the birds need in a snowstorm.

Enter the bird bath heater!
Water is much-appreciated!
It keeps a melted area around it in all temps. Birds don't drink mass quantities, so even a fringe of exposed water will suffice. In the pic above, I had just refilled the bath, so don't think that the heater was keeping the whole thing melted. But soon after this, our resident mockingbird (who we named Mr. Stubby after something trying to catch him pulled all his tail feathers out) made an appearance and drank several beakfuls. It was great to see him. They don't spend time at feeders, so this was our opp to bring him in.

So that's how we outfit our backyard sanctuary! 
Hope it helped you get some ideas. Don't feel you have to get all this at once! Just start with a decent  tube feeder and black-oil sunflower and watch the show begin!

Sweet, little Red-Breasted Nuthatch
UPDATE: Only a day ago I received my Cornell  Lab of Ornithology newsletter describing a "superflight" of birds across the country (birds well outside their normal ranges) that included Red-Breasted Nuthatches in Maryland. Would you believe the very next morning after hanging those peanut feeders, we had our first Red-Breasted Nuthatch?! So excited to be including that in our results for the Great Backyard Bird Count.
   And thanks to the Outdoor Hour Challenge for getting us motivated to finally participate!

Got birdfeeders? Got comments? Tell Mother All About It!

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  1. You have created a paradise for your backyard birds...they are well fed and sheltered! Thank you for sharing all your ideas and resources with the OHC Carnival.

    1. My pleasure, Barb. Hope it helps a few readers. Thanks for providing the platform!

  2. Thank you for your feeder tour. I have some thistle feeders, but they aren't really being used. I am wondering if I need to place them a little closer to some shrubs for cover.

    We too saw our first red-breasted nuthatch. We're in northern CT, and I think that is part of their normal range, but I had never seen one before.


    1. Sarah, You may start seeing goldfinches soon. Ours have started coming out of nowhere with spring in the air. Cover is always worth keeping in mind, but finches don't seem that easily spooked IMHO. Have you cleaned the feeders out recently? Thistle can get wet and mold in there. Big turn-off.

  3. Wow!! Your bird-sanctuary set-up is amazing! I didn't know you could warm up a bird bath in winter... :) I really enjoyed seeing all of your feeders and the layout. Thank you for sharing!

    1. You can find bird bath heaters at bird stores, obviously, but possibly at your local chain hardware store. Mine was about $35 a few years ago. There was a cheaper $15 one but I was advised it would only be good for a year or two. This one is still going strong. Glad you like our yard!


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