In honor of International Friendship day, I thought I would write about birds of a feather getting along. As those of my readers who have feeders will know, one of the great joys of watching birds in your yard is being able to witness their antics. Regardless of the species, as a group they are funny creatures. I personally enjoy watching them interact with their fellow feathered creatures. Therefore, I decided to dedicate this post to getting along…at least some of the time.
Little birds generally seem less territorial of feeders. They operate on a “the more the merrier” mentality. I guess when you are that small, a full feeder represents more than you could possibly eat. It has been my observation that most of the smaller birds, sparrows, finches and nuthatches, among others take a flight rather than fight approach the minute an interaction turns the slightest confrontational. This makes sense, given their size. I have noticed that the House Sparrows are also either the most forgiving or the birds with the shortest memory, because two seconds after taking off, back they come for another pass at the feeders.
With bigger birds, it really depends on who they’re interacting with. Blue Jays often use the strategy of crashing in and scaring everyone away. Like a fighter jet, they are in and out again before you are even sure what happened. In comparison, the Northern Cardinals just stand their ground and voice their displeasure, usually pushing up their crest feathers, just in case the rest of their body language hadn’t made their feelings clear enough to the transgressor. But the Cardinals are pretty unpredictable. Sometimes they are happy to share and other days they want all the grub to themselves.
Woodpeckers also seem to have trouble sharing. At times I can totally understand their mood. They are usually hanging from the suet feeder and they only just find a good spot, the feeder only just stops rocking and they are digging their bills into some good chow when suddenly someone lands on the suet and starts the whole thing rocking again. That would annoy anyone! Most times they grab a few bits and cut their losses but I have seen a few get a bit snippy with the offender. One spring a juvenile Downy Woodpecker got tough with a juvenile House Sparrow. The House Sparrow gave it right back, but he did have several brothers to back him up.
Mourning Doves are a gentle giant, usually happy to share with everyone or to clear out if the other bird seems the slightest bit tough. I have seen a few Mourning Doves push other birds away at the feeders on occasion, but it is really rare behavior.
Baltimore Orioles are another story altogether. It is like their beauty makes them God’s gift to the forest. They do not like sharing with anyone and they will fight for what they feel is theirs. Unfortunately for one Male Baltimore Oriole I observed, the Grey Catbird he was challenging was not really in the mood to be pushed around and gave it right back!
While the fighting is funny to watch, I think I do prefer when everyone is getting along nicely at my feeders. Much less spilled seed and more opportunities to get good photos than when they are all ruffled and flitting around to get after each other. I guess all we can do is hope that they settle their own disputes amicably and co-exist peacefully.
I have said it before, but I will say it again, juvenile birds are so weird. With both the disheveled appearance of their developing adult plumage and their equally awkward behavior, it is little wonder many people’s first reaction upon seeing a juvenile is to assume the bird is sick.
In my backyard I have become accustom to certain juveniles. House Sparrow juveniles, for example, are almost a constant throughout the summer. However, last summer I received a few visits from a juvenile Northern Cardinal and I must say, seeing it in person made such an impression.
I think part of the shock has to do with my impression of adult Northern Cardinals. An elegant, almost aristocratic bird, the Northern Cardinal never seems to have a feather out of place. Male and female alike seem to treat the feeder and their fellow birds with disinterested disdain.
So perhaps it is the elegance of the adults that created such a strong contrast between them and their gawky juvenile. When it first landed, it made quite an entrance. Instead of a graceful decent, it more or less plopped out of the air. Once on the ground it began to wander. Like most toddlers, its attitude was one of wonder, as it explored everything with great interest and curiosity. Every other bird in the area was of particular interest, no doubt because they might be convinced to feed this pitiful little guy, so he didn’t have to fend for himself.
I say guy, but the sex of my juvenile could not be determined by appearance. Juvenile Northern Cardinals are similar in appearance to a female, but they are a duller brown throughout. The only hints of the Northern Cardinal’s famous red can be seen with some red tinting at the breast and tail. During its first visit it’s plumage looked particularly bedraggled. However, it visited more than once over the course of the summer, so I was able to see the progression from the scruffy youth toward the sophisticated adult. If you think about it, it was looking pretty good, considering that it was born naked except for a few tufts of grayish-brown down.
As I indicated in my post about hatchlings, juvenile birds exhibit a
whole different set of behaviors from younger birds that justify
their own discussion. To quickly recap, the growing phases of a bird
are: 1. Egg, 2. Hatchling (or nestling), 3. Juvenile, 4. Adult.
When observing a
juvenile bird I often reflect on how appropriately they were named.
In the English language juvenile has a negative connotation that many
of its synonyms don’t carry. When one acts juvenile, one is usually
acting in a way thought to be beneath our actual age. Acting
childish. While I am sure that birds are not familiar with the nuance
and cultural associations of the word juvenile, they often live up to
its definition and all that it implies.
The best way to think of a juvenile bird is to compare it to a kid in
Middle School. Awkward, gawky, silly, unknowledgeable,
unworldly. All of these adjectives can be applied to the
juvenile bird. This is the stage of their development when they set
foot in the world on their own. And they aren’t really sure about
the whole thing. Often their parents are at a discrete distance,
observing and prepared to intervene.
Young birds can be a
lot of fun to watch. Their antics as they interact with a world they
don’t fully understand can sometimes leave you in stitches. Many of
the young House Sparrows that visit my feeders have a really hard
time figuring out how and where to perch. They loose their balance
easily and sometimes they slide down the feeder pole in slow motion,
unable to figure out what is going on, or how to stop it.
Often juveniles are
fearless when it comes to getting a handout. Many of the young House
Sparrows and even one or two young Blue Jays have come to my feeder
and then opened their mouths expectantly to any adult bird that came
near. One female Cardinal was particularly taken aback by this
behavior. She hopped back and then quickly skirted away from a small
army of open mouths. Most adults just ignore this behavior, although
some parents will continue to mouth feed even as they are trying to
teach their children to fend for themselves.
Sometimes juvenile behavior isn’t as funny. My parents have a lot
of trouble with young Woodpeckers flying under their porch roof and
nearly injuring themselves as they desperately look for a safe place
to land. They soon learn, but the first few days are concerning, both
of the birds and whoever has dared to sit on the porch.
It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between a juvenile bird and an injured bird at first glance. Juveniles often flutter their wings at a quickened, almost frantic pace which can seem to indicate that they are hurt. In fact, this behavior is used in some species of bird to inform parents that the baby wishes to be fed.
Appearance and identification are sometimes difficult when it comes to juveniles. Even though many field guides provide an image of juvenile birds, each bird develops at its own rate, meaning that coloring and major identifying markers for some species may not be easily spotted. Some birds, such as the many kinds of Warblers, have very similar juvenile development, making an exact match hard. However, if you are having trouble identifying a bird, there are some quick clues you can look for which will tell you if you are looking at an immature bird.
Fuzz is the first
big clue. Whether it is a downy fluff sticking out under the wings or
covering the bird’s belly, immature feathers that don’t seem in
harmony with the rest of the bird’s plumage can be a good
indicator. Like baby teeth in humans, adult feathers develop
gradually and many juvenile birds are still a bit fuzzy here or
Inconsistent coloring is another indicator. Some birds will look really weird, or almost sick, with very patchy coloring. Chances are they are a young bird, just developing the mature feathers of an adult of their species. Be careful of the time of year with this indicator though. Many birds, including several different species of duck, develop a different plumage when they are not breeding. When mating plumage is developing or phasing out they can exhibit similar patchy qualities to juvenile birds.
You may recognize the shape of a bird, or the overall appearance but it is not the correct color. There are many juvenile birds that develop mature looking feathers that are not fluffy but also do not resemble those of their parents. This is true of starlings. Many male juvenile birds resemble the adult female in coloring and develop their more colorful mating plumage slowly.
How big are they? Many young birds do not develop their full adult size immediately. If you have many of the same species near each other, compare the bird in question to others of the same kind. If it is smaller in statue, it is likely a juvenile. If other birds aren’t around for comparison, consider the bird’s own proportions. Does it’s beak or feet look too large? These signs can also indicate a bird that is not yet fully grown.
Depending on where you live, you may have a variety of fledglings visiting you all summer long as some birds have two or more broods. Generally, the juvenile phase lasts about four weeks for most feeder birds.
As so many of us are entering into our fourth week of self quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the struggle to maintain some sense of normality and sanity continues. As many of us work from home, or try to work from home, and so many others are faced with unemployment during the crisis, it is important that we continue to experience the calming effects of nature and the outdoors. And this we can do right in our own backyards and gardens. Just walking outside your door to do some yard work in the sunshine and fresh air can help to ease some of the tension and anxiety, even if just for a short amount of time. You should think of your yard as your sanctuary. This is especially true now that many of the parks in northern New Jersey have been closed to the public. Those of us who are used to traveling to the birds must now be content with seeing only those birds that come to visit us.
March did not come in like a lion this year, but it demonstrated variable and unpredictable tendencies that fluctuated between lion and lamb all month. Thus far April seems to be more accepting that spring has arrived. In our house we know that spring has arrived when we start to be awoken daily by the hammering of a Woodpecker on the outside of our house. I am not sure if it is the same Woodpecker every year, or even every morning, but our vinyl cedar shake shading seems to really have a special attraction, which is lacking in the dozens of trees in a 3 yard radius.
Watching the feeders right now is like a reunion. All our summer favorites have returned from their winter abodes and are getting settled back in. And those winter residents that never left us seem to be venturing out a bit more than they do in the winter, taking advantage of the change in the weather to begin bulking up. Even if we cannot see them all, we can most certainly hear them. With so many birds in the neighborhood establishing their territorial boundaries, searching for mates and seeming to be generally happy that the sun is somewhat shining, the neighborhood is alive with bird song.
Just a few days ago I decided to put my finch feeder back out on the post and see if I could attract New Jersey’s state bird, the goldfinch. In less than twenty-four hours I had success. The males were still molting into their bright yellow summer outfits, but they came none the less. I have been very pleased with the variety of birds I have seen this early in April. This includes some less frequent visitors, such as a curious Carolina Wren and a chatty Brown-headed Cowbird. Even one Dark-Eyed Junco is still kicking around. He seemed unconvinced that winter has left for good, but I think he is alone in that thinking.
Besides being as hungry as ever, they also seem to have that nesting bug. Both of my nest boxes are already humming with activity as two pairs of House Sparrows do their part to increase the population.
So try to take a few minutes each day to go outside and take it all in. The world hasn’t ended and life is going to carry on just as it always has. We will be able to get out to our nature preserves and parks soon, so just hang in there and take quarantine one day at a time.
I spent one Sunday morning in Cedar Lawn Cemetery, in search of the ever elusive Bald Eagle. I have written about Bald Eagles on this blog before, but they are just so impressive, it is hard not to keep gravitating toward them.
On this particular occasion, a sunny but cold and windy day in mid December, I went in search of the nest I had heard was somewhere inside the cemetery. I have said it once, but I will say it again. You know a Bald Eagle nest when you see it. Imposing, huge and dramatic are some of the first words that come to mind. It took me a little time to find it, but it was just where one would expect, in the Y of one of the tallest trees in the area. It was comprised of sticks that look more like branches than twigs. Of course, my luck only ran so far. I found the nest and photographed it, but the Bald Eagles were not at home. Probably out Sunday brunching on the Passaic River.
I have been in Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Paterson many times. It is a really nice and very historic rural cemetery, full of some of the area’s most notable residents, including Vice President Garret Hobart and several the silk manufacturers who helped put Paterson on the map as Silk City. The artistic nature and architectural beauty of many of the gravestone and mausoleums is also worth noting.
This was the first time I walked through the cemetery looking for birds. I was pleasantly surprised by just how many different species I encountered. I am not sure why I was surprised, the cemetery is fairly wild considering it is in a city and right next to a highway. There is a small herd of deer that live inside the cemetery grounds. In the spring you see the fawns resting up against the headstones.
Besides the deer, I saw many of our neighborhood favorites including a mourning doves (never more appropriately named), Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays and Dark Eyed Juncos. An entire flock of Canada Geese seemed right at home as well.
I also saw several species of woodpeckers, including the Hairy Woodpecker, the Red Bellied Woodpecker and the Northern Flicker. I am pretty sure I also saw a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, though the encounter was brief and as you can see the photo is blurry.
The odd seagull flew over, as did a whole flock of ravens or crows. They never seemed to settle on anything long enough for me to get a good look at their features. A Northern Mockingbird kept me company while I was on the Bald Eagle stakeout. It kept hopping from grave to grave, and then posing… “now my left side, now my right… looking straight at the camera, now back to the left side…” A hawk, probably a Red Tailed Hawk, landed briefly in a tree near the Eagle nest before he took off again.
I have no doubt that I will be visiting Cedar Lawn’s bird population often, and not just in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the Eagles.
Following my amazing experience at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I was fairly sure that whatever I did with my second day alone in Florida would seem underwhelming. I decided to check out something a bit closer to Orlando, and went to Winter Park. I spent the morning exploring Mead Botanical Garden.
Named for naturalist Theodore Luqueer Mead, who first visited Florida to study butterflies in 1869, Mead Botanical Garden was started in 1937. This non-profit just celebrated its 75th anniversary and continues to provide a variety of family programming in their own oasis of nature in the middle of the suburbs. For more information about Mead Botanical Garden, you can check out their website at https://www.meadgarden.org/
Being about 47 acres in total, and not all of it accessible to visitors, I had a lot less ground to cover than I had on my previous day’s outing. I decided to leisurely wander the trails and enjoy the morning sunshine. When one hears the word garden, usually we are expecting flowers to be oozing out of every possible square inch of soil. The Botanical Gardens were not that garden. They did have many lovely flowering plants and also a variety of palms, greens and trees that gave the garden a park atmosphere.
There were many sections of the garden dedicated to butterfly attracting, which given its namesake’s interest in entomology makes perfect sense. I saw several varieties, but only one Monarch was so preoccupied with nectar gathering as to remain stationary long enough for me to get a decent photograph.
As I headed onto the boardwalk through Lake Lillian Marsh I met with a Carolina Wren. Looking a bit ruffled, it sat on the railing taking a look out into the Marsh.
Not long after seeing the Wren, I started noticing a lot of smaller lizards, crawling along palm fronds and resting on branches. Often they had changed their color to blend in with the surroundings. From my Florida Field Guide I determined that they were all Brown Anole, a smaller lizard from the Iguana family. Brown Anole can change their coloring from tan to darker browns in order to provide themselves some camouflage. They never grow much larger than 7 or 8 inches, which, as far as I am concerned, places them strongly in the “cute” category. One of them even decided to show me his dewlap, or neck flap. I was focusing on him as he sat totally stretched out on the railing, sucking up some early morning rays. While I was looking into my camera, he suddenly unfurled his dewlap, almost in the same way one would casually blow a bubble with chewing gum. I am not sure if he was trying to encourage me to buzz off or not. If so, it didn’t work. I just stood around focused and waiting for him to do it again. Eventually he obliged and I continued on my way.
A good portion of the trail follows along beside a shallow creek. Being a weekday, I had most of the trails to myself. But at one turn in the trail, I realized I wasn’t the only one out for a leisurely stroll. A Great Egret and a Glossy Ibis were both walking along the trail, very methodically. They walked in front of me on the trail a few yards. Eventually they decided to head back into the water and try their luck at fishing.
There were also a few noisy Northern Cardinals around. They were fairly skittish and stuck to the shadows, under the palms. I did get a few photos of one particularly grumpy and rough looking character.
Having been under-wowed, and cold, on a winter walk in Richard W. DeKorte Park, my expectations for Mills Creek Marsh in the winter were extremely low. However, I should have realized that Mills Creek Marsh is more sheltered from the bitter winds we encountered in Lyndhurst. Therefore a few more birds seem to shelter here in the winter. Regardless of the number of animals we encountered, the frozen landscape at the Marsh is also much more interesting, with the tree stumps planted in the ice covered water.
We spotted many of the winter residents we expected to see, Mallards,
Canada Geese and Ring-Billed Gulls. They all seemed to be managing
with the icy water. There was enough of a current that some of the
water was still flowing ice free and many of these birds had turned
the icy patches into a shortcut, walking across the ice with the ease
of a figure skater.
One Mallard was so impressed by my camera that he stopped his march across the ice to pose for me. He turned his body and his head several times, holding the pose just like a runway model, complete with attitude. I took several great photos, but the one I selected below I think expresses his personality the best.
The lack of vegetation on the surrounding trees also allowed us to
get a good look at a few feathered friends that we know are at the
Marsh, but don’t usually see so clearly. A very cold and fuzzy
Northern Mockingbird was trying to get some shelter in the branches
of a naked tree. He kept his eye on us, but decided we weren’t so
scary that he needed to hi-tail it. A female Northern Cardinal also
showed herself to us. She took a high open vantage point in a pine
tree, and while she was looking around, I moved a bit closer and took
The water in the Marsh also flows on the outer edge of the trail and
in the winter that water seems less prone to freezing. While taking a
few more photos of the Canada Geese and the Mallards, I noticed a
different duck that I had never seen before. He was a Green-Winged
Teal. According to my New Jersey book he should have been migrating
thorough this area in the Autumn, but it was definitely winter and he
seemed pretty content. I don’t think he had received the memo. The
Green-Winged Teal’s chestnut brown head has a vibrant patch of
green. A matching patch of green on his wing (as his name implies) is
harder to see when swimming.
The Mills Creek Marsh trails are a must visit in winter.
One of the things I like most about the Celery Farms in Allendale, NJ is that it provides an interesting walk, regardless of the season. I know I have said Autumn is my favorite season to visit, and it is, but winter is definitely nice as well. Especially if the weather is snowy and the lake has frozen. In fact many of the locals play hockey on the ice, so on an early morning winter walk (especially during the school break) one often finds the parking lot full.
Winter at the Celery Farms is not really for the unadventurous. If you think the path is muddy in other seasons, wait until you experience it in the winter. What makes it more interesting is that the mud sometimes freezes awkwardly making footing complicated. Definitely don’t forget your boots. Besides slip-sliding on the paths, the platform stairs can also be a bit slippery, so take extra care.
this extra effort to walk safely around the trail only makes the few
sightings you have all the more rewarding. Usually winter at the
Celery Farms yields the sightings you would expect. All our year
round residents are there including Sparrows, Mallards, Canada Geese,
Northern Cardinals, Dark-Eyed Juncos and Woodpeckers.
However, the lack of vegetation makes it possible to see some of the smaller birds that winter here, such as the Golden-Crowned Kinglet. The Golden-Crowned Kinglet is actually smaller than a Chickadee, making it really difficult to spot. But they have a tendency to flick their wings around as they hop from branch to branch, so the extra movement helps to attract one’s attention. They eat insects, fruit and drink tree sap (sans pancakes) as a part of a healthy balanced diet.
If you are having a particularly cold spell, you might see other birds and animals, flushed from discrete roosts to hunt for food. The deer are always foraging about and you never know if you will see other mammals wandering about.
Bird watching in the winter is not always for the faint of heart. Some of the best snowy bird photos can only be taken when one is exposed to the elements. Wintry walks are one great option. Get out of the house for a bit, get some fresh air and explore your favorite trails from a different perspective. Sometimes this can be tricky, especially if piles of snow or icy patches have developed on the trail. In New Jersey the ice is more of an issue than snow, but trail safety, especially when carrying expensive camera equipment, can be sketchy at times. Just remember to have good treads on your footwear and take it nice and easy.
The backyard is also still an option during the winter months. I am not just talking about the view from the warm comfort behind the windowpane. Bundle up, bring a lawn chair and camp out for a bit outside. I have done this a few times after a good storm and I have gotten some amazing shots. The birds are just as happy as the humans that the snow has stopped, so they come out in force. Besides some strange glances from the neighbors, there is really no downside. I get a bit of fresh winter air, and the experience of fresh, clean snow which honestly doesn’t last more than a day of two in New Jersey most of the time.
Winter is also a great time to focus on some of the Northeast’s year-round birds. I feel like the summer is focused on attracting the rare birds…can I get some VIP’st to my yard? Winter allows us to rekindle our relationships with the everyday backyard birds. Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Chickadees, Blue Jays, several varieties of Sparrow. During the winter in New Jersey our usual cast of characters is also joined by the Dark Eyed Junco.
Even if you decide not to brave the storm, remember that the birds don’t have a choice. If you feed the birds during the summer, you really should feed them during the winter as well. During the summer they become used to thinking of your feeders as a source of food. The winter months, especially if there is snow and ice, can be deadly for birds. So get off your couch, put on your boots and go fill up that feeder!
Bird feeders are not all created equal. Any squirrel will tell you this. I have been through many, many feeders at this point, but even the better made, better quality feeders will fail eventually. This is especially true for those made of plastic. Any plastic, even good plastic, will eventually perish when exposed to the extreme cold of winter. There are those people who bring their feeders in during the winter. But you are possibly hurting the birds to save a feeder. Summer feeding is much less important to bird survival. They have other sources of food and they can forage more easily. In winter, especially in snow, that is much more difficult. And remember, many fledglings were taught that your feeder was a food source. They will expect that to remain the case through their first winter. If you want to bring your feeders in, start to wean the birds of their dependence in the late summer and early autumn. Fill your feeders less often, or with less seed. If you have multiple feeders, remove one at a time and allow the birds to adjust.
There are a variety of different bird feeders out there, and sometimes it is difficult to know what you want to buy. Seed feeders probably come in the largest variety of both shapes and materials. There are two important things to keep in mind when purchasing a seed feeder. #1 there is no such thing as a feeder that keeps out squirrels. It is definitely true that some feeders are more squirrel resistant than others. But the squirrels have all summer to figure out how to break into your feeders, and you can be sure, no matter how long it takes, one day one lucky squirrel will break the code. #2 the size of the access holes or slits in the feeder, and their corresponding perches are directly related to what birds will be able to use your feeder. Many cylindrical feeders are designed with smaller birds in mind. Larger birds, such as Cardinals, Blue Jays and Grackles, have a difficult time accessing food directly from these feeders They can’t balance and they often can’t get their beaks into the holes. That doesn’t mean they won’t come around. They may glean on the ground below your feeders, eating the seed that falls or they may rock your feeders to spill additional food. There are a variety of different bird feeders out there, and sometimes it is difficult to know what you want to buy.
The holes or slits on seed feeders are a really important consideration all around. Some feeders only have a few openings, while other have many. The question you need to answer before selecting a feeder is, do I want more birds, or do I want to buy bird seed less often? There is really no right or wrong answer. Seed feeders with slits are the most expensive as seeds can easily be spilled or knocked. The summer I used a slit feeder, I filled it only about half as much as I filled my other feeders, simply because it was so often empty merely hours after I filled it.
Materials used to make seed feeders is another large consideration.
They can be found in wood, various grades of plastic and metal. Often
a feeder will have a combination of materials. I have remained on the
cheaper end of the spectrum, often buying “good” plastic feeders
and I have been fairly happy. I have also used several feeders that
have come free with my bird poles, most of which have been totally
crap. One was so flimsy I put it up in the morning, had to throw it
out when I got home from work…totally ripped to shreds by the
squirrels. I was honestly not surprised in the least. So thicker
plastic is better. But it is important to keep in mind that hard
plastic also runs the risk of cracking if it falls to the ground
(squirrel or high wind), especially after a season of two of
weathering has made it more brittle.
my many plastic feeders, I did inherit a lovely wooden feeder, which
remains my favorite. However, I have stopped using this feeder
because its weight (especially when holding a whole squirrel) was
having a very negative effect on my feeder pole, bending it down and
tipping it to one side. In a sturdy tree I have no doubt I would have
fared better. The large ledge on this feeder was both a positive
attribute and a negative. The larger birds really loved this feeder,
but the ledge also made life much easier for squirrels and chipmunks
to not only get at the seed, but to sit on the ledge and eat
themselves silly. I went through a lot more seed when I used this
feeder, and that, along with the damage to the bird pole, is why I
retired it to my basement.
I have also had the opportunity to watch several metal feeders in action. Most metal seed feeders have a cylindrical, chicken wire style body, with a series of rectangular or triangular openings. They usually have a ledge at their base and the top usually unscrews to allow filling. These types are really popular among both the smaller birds (sparrows, finches, chickadees) and woodpeckers, nuthatches, cardinals etc. The larger tree climbing birds, such as the woodpeckers and nuthatches are really able to hook into the holes, balance and peck, similar to their natural stance on a tree. One major drawback with metal is weather exposure. If you have a very windy rain storm your seed will get wet. As wet seed can grow mold and potentially make birds sick, I always try to dump out my feeders after a very wet storm, so that the seeds don’t have time to mold and harm the birds.
I think, considering all the pros and cons, metal feeders are really
the way to go. They withstand the elements better. They are less
likely to be damaged from falls. They are no more difficult to fill
than other feeders. They represent the best balance of durability and
lightweight. Some manufacturers try to add metal components to
plastic feeders, which sometimes serves to make them stronger, but I
still think all metal is the best move.
Before we can completely move away from the topic of seed feeders, we must also consider finch feeders. Like the popular girls at school, everyone wants to catch the attention of finches to their gardens. And because the finches are so special, they get their own special seeds and their own designated feeders. This is because nyjer seeds, the finch food of choice, are much thinner than most other bird seeds. They tend to slip out of normal feeders. As a result finch feeders have most of the same qualities as all other seed feeders, with the exception that they all have much smaller holes. If you aren’t sure you can attract finches, you might want to start with a finch sock. Inexpensively found where most bird feeders are sold, the “socks” are thin cloth bags with very small vent holes. They are usually refillable, with a drawstring top. While they are very inexpensive, I have found they do not withstand the elements. Especially if you do attract a lot of finches, expect to replace your sock once or even twice a season (at least). Being such thin material, they are very easily torn. Once you have a hole, you are done, because those thin nyjer seeds just spill out and the finches rarely, if ever, will go looking on the ground. If you decide to graduate from a sock to a more substantial feeder, you will find a variety of metal and plastic finch feeders, all identified specifically as finch feeders due to those smaller openings. Like with all seed feeders, if you want longevity, go with metal.
In comparison to seed feeders, suet feeders are pretty straightforward. Yes there is occasionally a fancy wood and metal suet feeder available, but the basic square metal hinged cage seems to serve just fine. I have inherited several since I started feeding birds and I haven’t needed to throw any away due to damages. The biggest area of concern is where the two halves close. A lack or loss of tension and the suet feeder will pop open easily. Suet feeders are also relatively inexpensive compared to other feeders, so no real worries there. I highly recommend that everyone consider having a suet feeder. The suet is a bit gross at first, but you soon get used to it and you will find they attract a greater variety of birds. Larger birds like suet and can use suet feeders. With a suet feeder I have attracted woodpeckers, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, cardinals and catbirds. I have also seen Baltimore Orieles, nuthatches and other birds drawn to them. Weather is the big drawback with suet. A rainy day and your suet dissolves. I have started checking the weather for the next few days before refilling my suet. Sometimes manufacturers will combine seed feeders with suet feeders, which is a nice way to save space. My wooden seed feeder was a combination feeder and I saw no disadvantages. The birds weren’t bothered by each other, and sometimes they would switch from suet to seed or seed to suet depending on what other birds came to the feeder.
Not unlike finch feeders, hummingbird feeders and Oriole nectar feeders are a bit more specialized. While Oriole feeders tend to hold more nectar and be larger, with larger perches, they are in essence very similar. They are usually a bottle like shape on top with the perch base usually doubling as a threaded lid, when flipped upside down. When right-side up, the base has holes where the birds can reach in to drink the nectar. Depending on the quality of the feeder’s plastic (they are pretty much all plastic) cracks or damage to the thread or seams are your major concern. You will have a sticky mess! Nectar food, often dyed red with food coloring, can be easily made at home with boiled water and sugar. It is important to know that if your feeder is not frequented by a lot of birds (my parents probably have 50-70 hummingbird’s perch in their feeders daily) you need to dump out the nectar every few days, regardless of how much has been consumed. This is particularly true if the nectar is in direct sunlight. Old nectar can harm or even kill hummingbirds. If you are having trouble with ants (or uncles) getting into your nectar, you can buy a smooth ceramic, bell-shaped attachment which goes between your hook and the string of the feeder. Apparently the ants can’t get purchase on the surface, so they cannot crawl down to the feeder.
I have saved jam feeders for last because they are my new favorite. Jam is a favorite among Orioles, and we have also discovered some Catbirds are also big fans. The feeders follow the same basic design as a nectar feeder, upside down jar or holder, with a threaded base that doubles as the lid. Potentially very sticky, but also a lot of fun. The one my parents have has a build in arm which scrapes the jam off the sides of the feeder so that it will drop down for the birds to more easily access.
There are a lot of feeder types out there, and this article is really
only just scratching the surface. I have not discussed meal-worm or
orange feeders because I don’t personally have much experience with
either. My general advice is to test things out before you buy an
expensive feeder of any kind. Observe what the birds like, what they
seem hesitant of etc. Then you can make more expensive purchases with
insider knowledge. The last thing you want to do is buy an expensive
feeder the birds don’t like. Another aspect of feeder shopping to
consider is that unfortunately a lot of stores seem to be under the
impression that there is a feeder season. Yes places like Home Depot,
Lowes, and Walmart sell feeders year round, but they often get a
greater supply in the spring. So if you are looking to replace a
feeder in the winter, there are often slim pickings. If you know what
you want, you might be better off online, but I like to look at the
feeders in person.