Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Feed the birds...

I like having birds in my 'hood. While I'm sitting at my desk at home, it's fun to see them flitting around, and for the window from November 1 to April 1, I put up feeders to try to get them to hang around and stay. Canmore has restrictions on bird feeders in the summer to reduce bear attractants; we don't, but I like the concept. We put up hummingbird feeders in the summer, but only put up our seed feeders in the winter.

I know that my local birds don't need my food. They can do just fine on their own. Hummingbirds become "addicted" to feeders, so once you start feeding them, you can't really stop without causing issues. But that's not true for the seed eaters.

After attending a talk by local Conservation Officer and bird lover, Glenn Naylor, I changed the food I feed my birds and now get many more birds that I used to. Turns out the only winter foods the birds around here eat are:

  • peanuts, preferably shelled;
  • black oil sunflower seeds, preferably shelled; or
  • suet cakes.
In the past, the mixed bird seed I tried using was thrown on the ground and eaten only by the deer mice. I started off feeding just peanuts, but watched as they went through more than a pound in a day (but I sure got on their radar screen), and peanuts are expensive. My new seed mix is 50% sunflower seeds in the shell, 25% shelled peanuts and 25% shelled sunflower seeds. My little pigs love it.

Normal visitors I see every day are:
  • Red breasted Nuthatches (peanut pigs)
  • White breasted Nuthatches
  • Black Capped Chickadees
  • Mountain Chickadees
  • Boreal Chickadees
  • Clark's Nutcrackers (pigs in general, but especially peanuts and suet)
  • Blue Jays
  • Downey Woodpeckers
  • Pine Grosbeaks
The Clarks are worst. There are about 5-6 around my yard, and when they come in, they chase other birds away. These bad boys will:
  • Chow down a suet cake in under 24 hrs. If I put out 2, they're both gone in 24 hrs.
  • Jam a cup of shelled peanuts into their crop, fly away, then come back and do it again and again until the peanuts are all gone
  • Take every peanut in the shell I give them, fly away with it, and come back for more. I now see squirrels plus other birds with peanuts in the shell, as they find where the Clarks are stashing them
  • Fling everything out of a feeder to seek out just the peanuts.
But they're pretty
It became clear on Day 1 that I had to do something to stop the Clarks from getting everything. So I built a cage around my main tube feeder. It's 1" mesh, so I cut a whole lot of 2" x 2" ports in it. Small birds can get in, but the big ones can't.
Unhappy Clarks
Well, Clarks are corvids (like crows and ravens) and corvids are smart. It took the Clarks 24 hrs to find out there wasn't a bottom on the cage. Even though it was a struggle, they flew in from underneath. I partially blocked it, and they figured out a way around that.
Sneaky bugger
So I put a full bottom on the cage, and they haven't been in since (though they still occasionally try to jam their heads through the 2" portholes).
Back to being mad
I like them around, though, so still throw out a handful of peanuts in the shell each day.

So now I get daily shows of birds doing cool things.
Male pine grosbeak 
Red breasted Nuthatch with a peanut 
Female Downy Woodpecker on the suet before the Clarks got to it 
Male Downy inside the cage 
That male making off with a peanut
De-bugging my fence
My next door neighbour feeds on the other side of the fence, and she started hand feeding the Chickadees a few months ago. So I had to try.
The Chickadees and Nuthatches both try to feed while I'm trying to fill the feeder. I've had birds fly into the cage to feed while I was trying to hang it. If I stand outside, it's not unusual for the Chickadees to fly right up to me. Today I was standing next to the cage, and there were 8 Grosbeaks on the ground around me, basically ignoring me.

Watching the intra-bird dynamics is interesting. Some don't mind having other birds in the cage. Some freak if ones fly by. The Nuthatches are quite happy to chase the Chickadees away. The Grosbeaks are normally tree feeders, but never go near the feeders, preferring to scour the ground for discards. If a Clarks is around, he'll chase other birds to try to get them to drop their peanuts. There's a suet cake hanging inside the cage, but for some reason, the Chickadees will try to eat from the one outside the cage in competition with the Clarks rather than use their own.

It's true they don't need me. But I don't care. I just need a new budget line item to pay for all the freaking peanuts they eat.