A small goldfinch dressed in its olive gray winter coat calmly eats at the bird feeder outside my kitchen window. A moment later a chickadee flies in for a morsel and then flies away. A female house finch starts pecking way, then another. A male flies in to join them, but he’s not welcome. One of the female finches pecks him away.
Otherwise, the comings and goings at the feeder are civil and polite until a pack of starlings arrive. The screeching and flapping of wings to gain a perch create a frenetic discord. These starlings are flummoxed by a weighted mechanism attached to the perches to prevent squirrels from feeding. When more than one starling sits at the feeder, it closes, and none can get at the feed. Thank goodness they soon fly off, screeching in frustration, and leave the other birds to partake from the feeder in a more orderly and polite fashion.
Such is life at the new bird feeder outside my kitchen window. It has opened us up to a whole new world of bird behavior. It’s also a balm after a death in the family to see this life, and the birds’ distinct personalities, right outside.
I’ve wanted a feeder for years, and I wanted to do this right, so I gathered advice from neighbors on what to purchase. Marge Rachlin advised getting a feeder that is squirrel proof. Marcia Wiss recommended the Squirrel Buster, and Katrina Weinig advised three feeding stations: one for small birds, one for large, and another to hang suet for the woodpeckers. She also suggested visiting the Audubon Naturalist Society, which has a shop that sells feeders, poles, and feed.
I did my research on the “Squirrel Buster,” which looked promising, but there were so many choices that I decided to go out to the Audubon Society off Jones Mills Road for some advice. After speaking at length with the volunteer working at the shop, I bought a mid-priced Squirrel Buster with an adjustable weight mechanism, a separate suet feeder, a pole for two feeders, and the feed. I learned that the chili flavored sunflower seeds would further deter the squirrels since despite its name, the Squirrel Buster was not completely squirrel proof. The smartest squirrels, you see, can figure out how to eat from the feeder without sitting on the perches.
The Audubon volunteer also mentioned that raccoons (we have them) could dislodge the feeders from the pole. The Squirrel Buster’s instructions recommend using cable ties to anchor the feeders to the pole, so I walked over the Ace Hardware to get them.
The instructions also warned that it may take a couple of weeks for the birds to find and scope out the feeder, but the birds came the day after I set it up.
Marge Rachlin had told me that birds of different kinds will come at the same time, because the more eyes looking out for predators – such as the neighborhood’s hawks – the better. It has been mesmerizing to sit at our kitchen table and watch the different eating habits of the birds (read more about their table manners here). I’ve seen that bigger doesn’t always mean bolder, for example. Cardinals and blue jays appear shy in approaching the feeder compared to the tiny chickadee which flits to and fro.
Sites like Project FeederWatch can help you identify the birds you see at the feeder. Here are the ones I’ve seen – with links to their songs.
- Chickadee (one of the smallest at 4 and three-quarters inches)
- Downy woodpecker
- Dark-eyed junco
- House finch – male and female
- Mourning dove (picks up leftovers under the feeder)
- White-throated sparrow (mostly underneath though I’ve seen a braver one perching at the feeder)
- European starling
- Redheaded woodpecker
- Carolina wren
- Blue jay (11.5 to 12 inches, by far the largest bird to make a very brief visit at the feeder)
So far the squirrels have stayed away and the raccoons have not figured out how to dislodge the feeders tied down with cables. But the greatest success is the new way to enjoy our backyard from a comfortable spot at the kitchen table.