The Battle over the Bird Feeders

When we moved to a rural property, it was hard to resist the prospect of getting a bird feeder given the many species of feathered friends that stopped in for a layover.

While the process behind bird feeders may appear fairly straightforward (get bird feeder, fill with bird seed, birds eat food, watch, enjoy, repeat), who knew that being restaurateur to an avian clientele would present such a learning curve?

Upon arrival, we noticed that the previous owners left behind a hummingbird feeder on a shepherd’s hook in the garden. We thought that was a good starting point.

Upon closer inspection, the feeder needed a thorough cleaning, so I brought it in the house, let it sit in hot water for a while and then started scrubbing.

I googled “hummingbird feeder” to see what was recommended in terms of the liquid to put in it. To my great surprise, it was a simple solution of 1 part sugar dissolved in 4 parts water. I was quite thrilled that it would be this easy to get started, as I had never seen a hummingbird up close before.

However, when I poured the “nectar” into the feeder, I discovered that the old feeder was due for replacing as the liquid dribbled out all over the place.

On our next trip to Canadian Tire, we picked up a new hummingbird feeder to replace the old one, as well as a basic bird feeder and a bag of bird seed designed to attract smaller songbirds. The larger birds would have to fend for themselves for now, but I knew that they wouldn’t go hungry as they seemed quite content with the berries on some of our small fruit trees.

Once the new feeders were filled, we placed them both on the shepherd’s hook in the middle of our garden… and then we waited.

While I certainly can’t speak for the birds nor do I have any credentials as a bird psychologist, I think it would be safe to say that it takes time for birds to pick up the feeder on their GPS and to determine it is a safe place to stop for food. Maybe they have a bird-version of Yelp reviews to alert their colleagues of a good place to dine. Maybe they need to tweet the location to each other.

It took a few days but we finally started to see “clients” pecking at the bird seed, to our great joy. It really was one of life’s sweet and simple pleasures to feel like we were helping nature in some small way.

Their arrival sparked the beginning of a new game of “Name That Bird”, as we started to see varieties of all different colours and markings dropping in for a bite. In my sheltered life in the city, I had never seen such an impressive array.

I am certain you can imagine my great delight when I saw my first hummingbird, in our very own garden, maneuvering like a little helicopter, sipping the nectar out of the feeder. That alone was worth the price of admission into the world of bird feeders.

However, it didn’t take long for the rest of our animal kingdom to clue in to the availability of food.

The ants found their way to the sweet water of the hummingbird feeder. Meanwhile, the squirrels and chipmunks realized that around the bird feeders, gravity was their friend. They could have their own buffet from the seeds that fell while the birds were helping themselves.

But it was only a matter of time before our chipmunks became greedy little buggers. They wanted more.

For one in particular, I found myself laughing at Chippy’s early morning attempts to climb the shepherd’s hook, only to slide back down due to the morning dew that made the hook slippery.

A couple of hours later, when the hook was dry, Chippy returned and tried again. He figured out that all he needed was to climb half way up the hook and then jump over to the feeder to get access to the little holes.

I didn’t know whether to howl with laughter, grab a camera or to run out and shoo him away when seeing the chipmunk, face first into one of the holes in the bird feeder and feasting away.

Once that habit started, the bird seed went down quickly… too quickly. I felt bad for the birds who looked on scornfully.

The next season, we decided to step up our bird feeder game by getting a squirrel-proof bird feeder, thinking it would also be effective against chipmunks.

The way it works is that the bird feeder is surrounded by an outer cage that hangs on a spring system. When a squirrel jumps on the outer cage, the squirrel’s weight brings the cage down in such a way that the feeder’s openings are blocked. We felt renewed confidence that we had the upper hand in the matter.

Unfortunately, chipmunks aren’t heavy enough for the spring mechanism to activate, thus keeping our bird feeder open to unauthorized guests. To make matters worse, not only did Chippy stick his head in and eat the seed, he also chewed through the plastic that holds the seed within the feeder.

Maybe our next feeder will need to be an all-metal version, with baffles to make Chippy’s adventures even more challenging. But they are definitely badass enough that I wonder if it is only a matter of time before they figure it out.

The consolation with the battle over the bird feeders is that by keeping the chipmunks and squirrels fed with the bird seed, they seem to leave our vegetable garden alone… or at least they did last year. I hope this holds true this year as well.

Either way, we are not deterred (… yet) when it comes to offering dining options for our fine feathered friends. We know that this encourages them to keep an eye on the property and to take care of minor pests (i.e., insects).

So far, bird feeders have been a source of humour, sometimes a bit of horror, but overall great joy to be doing our little part for the eco system.

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

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