Seven years ago we put up a bird feeder in our backyard. It’s on a post, in the middle of our yard, with a fence covered in blackberry bushes directly behind it. At the time we had four cats, all about seven years old and quite active, so at times it seemed like we’d set up a buffet for them. However, the birds got a lot more seed than the cats got birds, so it was still a good idea. Eventually the neighborhood cats also discovered the feeder, and several figured out how to climb the post (even with the berry bushes wrapped around it) and sit in the center of the feeder, waiting hopefully for birds. That’s when we put the wire at the front of the feeder, to make it more difficult to get into and hold down the lid. Amazingly, one small cat still managed to squeeze in there on a regular basis, until it got too big. Have to admit, it was funny seeing a cat’s rump and tail sticking out of the feeder — did they think the birds wouldn’t notice them? 🙂 Hope springs eternal.
We get a lot of birds at the feeder, especially in the Spring, when they are nesting and feeding babies. In March there was a lot of happy noise, as the birds were courting and singing their songs. It reminded me of the movie “Bambi,” where the owl complained of everyone being “twitterpated.” 🙂 Then it became obvious they were nesting, and when the eggs hatched, things got REALLY busy at the feeder. Not much noise now — both parents were busy gathering food for their young. At this point in the year it is normal for me to have to fill the feeder twice a day, with them eating up to ten pounds of seed a day. About ten days ago it got noisy at the feeder again — now the parents are teaching their babies about getting their own food. You can tell the now-flying babes are out there by the shrill “feed me” sounds of their voices. Last year I watched some very frustrated parents trying to teach their young about the feeder. The hatchlings would sit on top of the feeder with their shrill cries, and the parents would hop down onto the feeder, gather seed, and then hop on top to feed the babes. Had to laugh, because some of the hatchlings were awfully slow about making the connection for themselves. 🙂 This year’s hatchlings seem to be a bit brighter — if you look at the photo, there is one sitting in the center of the feeder.
We have a bird book, but have not made the effort to identify all the birds at our feeder. The ones in the photo are red-winged blackbirds. We also get Steller’s Jays, mourning doves, swallows, chickadees, wrens, thrushes, robins, orioles, grosbeaks, finches, and sparrows. This year the wild pigeons also showed up, which has been a bit of a problem. I didn’t mind when there were just two or three of them, but forty to fifty can clean out a feeder in a very short time. After talking with the local agricultural department and various friends, I learned they were attracted by all the waste seed that had accumulated under the feeder. One suggested putting a hogwire cage around the feeder, allowing the smaller birds in and keeping the pigeons out; unfortunately, this would also keep the Steller’s Jays out, and I’m fond of them. Another suggested cleaning out the seed under the feeder; since the ground is four to five inches higher under the feeder because of waste seed, I’d have to cover that area with soil and start over. One reluctant suggestion was shooting at the pigeons (he suggested using a paint gun), but I’m not that determined. After all, they just want to eat, and it’s me who keeps putting food out. Currently I’m trying two tactics: I’ve switched to a better quality seed mix, so there is less waste seed on the ground, and whenever I see the pigeon flock out there I walk onto the back deck and wave a stick in their general direction. They get the idea, and fly away. Last weekend I saw a seed mix in the store that calls itself “no-waste,” and it did look like a very good mix. Unfortunately, 100 pounds would cost me about $120, and I’m not that wealthy. (The mix I’m now using is about $35 for 100 pounds.) I also add black oil sunflower seed to the mix (though it already contains some) and cracked corn. Oh — and I forgot to mention that the neighbor’s black chicken comes over on a regular basis. 🙂 She flys over in the morning, and back at night.
We also have a bird bath, which the birds love. I get a kick out of watching them wade in and flutter about. The robins especially enjoy it, and will come for their bath even if they don’t stay long at the feeder. I watched one bathing there for about five minutes one day.
We only have one cat now, and he’s almost fourteen years old, so he mostly sits on the deck and watches the birds. They don’t worry about him, unless he is on patrol in the vicinity of the feeder. Occasionally he follows the chicken around. 🙂
I began feeding the birds as a way of tithing, rather like saying thank you to nature for all the beauty. My son teases that I’ve altered the ecology of the neighborhood, and I probably have. However, there is one result I hadn’t counted on when I first put the feeder out, and that is the joy and relaxation of just watching the birds. Feeding the birds is less expensive than a therapist, and grounds and connects me with the natural world, helping me grasp what is essential, and reminding me there is hope. Even the pigeons have taught me about letting go of doing things my way, and of letting balance find itself. So if you’ve ever considered putting out a bird feeder, I heartily recommend it. It will benefit you and the birds. 🙂