Sunday, March 7, 2021

Feeding winter birds at my ‘squirrel-proof’ feeder station

By Larry Cornelis – President, Sydenham Field Naturalists

In my last article about squirrels, I mentioned that I have a squirrel proof bird feeder station.

I’ve had some inquiries as to what it is and also what do I feed the birds.

Also, in an earlier article (Attracting and enjoying songbirds) I stated that only 20% of the birds that visit your yard will go to your feeders to eat seeds.

The other 80% have no interest in your bird feeders as they are looking for insects.

When you consider the whole year and all the seasons this is true.

Now that it’s winter, there are not too many insect eating birds, although most any songbird will eat an insect if they find one hiding in a bark crevice or under some leaves (eg. Nuthatch, Chickadee).

The winter birds in our backyards are mostly looking for seeds as a food source.

Of course, there are a lot less species of birds in your backyard in the winter than in spring or summer, probably 15 to 20 on average in our region.

They will definitely visit your feeders in winter and it’s a joy to watch them.

So, the feeder station is built with a 10-foot long 4×4 post, anchored about 30 inches deep with concrete (concrete is optional) which has 2-foot 2x4s at the top with hooks screwed near the ends.

What makes it squirrel proof is 6 feet of 5-inch duct pipe on the post and how high the feeders are.

Larry Cornelis Photo

See the photo above and to the right.

I can easily hang four or five feeders on it.

I feed black-oil sunflower, nyger, peanuts and a suet cake (striped sunflower and safflower are good too).

I also throw a bit of mixed seed on the ground below the feeders for ground eating birds especially, sparrows, doves and juncos, but other birds too.

Of course, the squirrels get to the feed on the ground as well.

C’est la vie.

The mixed seed is a combination of corn, millet, wheat and a few sunflower seeds.

It’s cheaper than pure sunflower or nyger but it’s not as healthy.

And it attracts introduced (alien) birds like house sparrows and starlings which I’d rather not do.

I’m hoping to support native songbirds such as American goldfinches, northern cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, blue jays, pine siskins, juncos etc.

Once in a while there will be a raptor zooming in to catch dinner.

Larry Cornelis Photo

I see coopers hawk, sharp-shinned hawk and recently a merlin (a falcon).

Raptors have to eat too and have just as much right to exist as other birds but I know many people can’t stand to see a hawk eating a pretty songbird.

My feeder station can be incredibly busy.

I participate in ‘feeder watch’, a program with Birds Canada and Cornell University.

Every week or so between October and April, I report the birds at my feeders.

In 2018, I was reporting as many as 130 American goldfinches for a count and it was always flagged as a possible error so I had to write an explanation and confirm I had really seen that many finches at one time.

You can only report the maximum number of a species you see at one time and do not add up several counts as one in error.

It gives me great pleasure to feed and watch the birds at the feeders and research (at Birds Canada) now indicates feeding birds in the winter helps them survive, especially when it’s unusually cold or there’s deep snow.

Be sure to keep the feeders clean (soak in soapy water once in a while) and keep them full once you’ve started.

For more details, visit: http://www.sydenhamfieldnaturalists.ca/

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