January 4, 2005 > Bird Feeders
by Pat Kite
Bird watching is soothing, fun and educational. To increase your feathered friend contingent, get a bird feeder. Or two. Or three. Then place them where you can watch from a window. There are many different kinds of feeders, and sometimes choosing the correct one for your garden space can seem a tad confusing. Let's take a closer look.
TUBE FEEDERS: These are the long vertical feeders with openings in the sides. Tube feeders are the most common feeders, primarily attracting finches, bushtits, sparrows, and siskins. The birds perch on footrests located adjacent to the tube openings and chow down the small seeds. It's amazing how much a little bird can eat. I prefer to use only black oil sunflower seeds in the tube feeders. Why? Because cheap generic seed isn't usually eaten, but falls to the ground where it sprouts into those little weedlets people complain about.
Prices for tube feeders vary between $6 and $40. The least expensive ones are found in most garden shops. The better ones are located in pet stores, particularly ones that specialize in bird paraphernalia. You can also try the Internet, but personal experience says it's better to inspect what you are buying. Having tried the cheaper plastic ones, I find the footrests fall out after a short while, making the feeder useless. You also want a tube feeder with a full-size catching dish underneath. Seeds plop into this, and birds dine here too.
For the special person who wants to attract goldfinches, there is also a special tubular finch feeder and special thistle food. This tiny niger food is pricier than regular birdseed, but goldfinches are special. Personally, I prefer the sock feeder to the long tube feeder for goldfinch attraction.
SUET CAGES or BASKETS: These 4-inch square wire enclosures and similar were once utilized to hold home-made suet. Today they often contain pre-packaged seed mixtures. Suet baskets sell for about $4 and hold a 4-inch square food cake often designed for a specific bird type or types. For example, a "mini-cake" for woodpeckers, selling for about $2, may hold black oil sunflower seeds, safflower, cracked corn, white millet, peanut hearts, red millet, a bit of honey etc. They are neat, but I've never had much luck with them regarding bird visits. But others think they are just wonderful. They are worth a try.
PLATFORM FEEDERS: If you are handy, it is easy to construct a platform feeder or bird table. This is a flat tray on a high pedestal. If you buy or make a platform feeder, it should have some type of drainage. Take a close look at ones found in pet stores before you design your own for quite a lot less money. Check your local library or bookstore for a "how-to" book if you are into original design. Birds attracted to a platform feeder may include the hermit thrush, oriole, robin, woodpecker, and mourning dove. In lieu, I use hanging bird baths attached to my vine trellises. These hold big sunflower seeds and occasional breadcrumbs.
HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS: Nowadays these come in a variety of colors, but good old-fashioned red is still the best. Spend a little more and get quality, as the cheaper ones are harder to clean. The better ones also have a "bee guard" a small circular screen which covers the feeding hole. This allows hummingbirds to feast, but keeps bees and wasps out. The hummingbird feeder must be cleaned every 3 to 4 days. Do not, as in days of yore, put in red food coloring. This is toxic to the small birds. Use four parts plain water to one part sugar. The persnickety will boil the water first to help the sugar dissolve, but make certain the water cools before offering it to the hummingbirds.
A note to the wise: All feeders must be placed about 5 feet off the ground to keep cats from jumping on birds distracted by your generous food offerings. Since seed does fall to the ground, birds will also go there to dine. Cats learn this, and hide behind nearby bushes or garden/pool equipment. Dead birds placed at your doorstep by neighborhood cats do not a jolly garden make. There should be an area clear of even low-growing bushes in a wide circumference under a bird feeder.
As a note, I started out with one bird feeder and now have ten. In this sometimes concrete world, it's nice to have my own private "jungle" sounds after a hard day's work.