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Birds and Squirrels

Bird and squirrels

If you are stuck at home, you may as well feed the birds. We have had several feeders up for the last year, and I think I’m getting the hang of it. I’ve done it off and on through the years, but this was the first time we kept feeders going through the summer.

We are on a modest suburban lot with some tall trees. We don’t have much lawn, the ground is mostly given over to shrubs and perennials, so we have good habitat for birds.

We have a thistle feeder and last winter and spring it was loaded with goldfinches. As the weather warmed in spring, they basically disappeared and have not as yet returned. I gave up on the thistle feeder in the summer, put it up again about a week ago, and it’s been very quiet.

The birds would give it two thumbs down, if they had thumbs. On the other hand, the black-oil sunflower seed and mixed sunflower/peanut seed have been popular year-round. We get a few English sparrows, but not as many as we did when we had the cheaper mixed seed with millet. We get a lot of house finches year-round.

We also get white-breasted nuthatches (in photos); downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers; Carolina wrens; and black-capped chickadees. At times we get grackles and blue jays. All of these are able to feed on perching feeders.

In the past we had trouble with the gray squirrels. I like squirrels but their appetites know no bounds. I found that if I put the feeder far enough from trees they can’t jump onto them.

To keep them from climbing up the poles to the feeders, the metal squirrel baffles I bought (Audubon brand; photo above) have been terrific. No more squirrel problems.

There are always a few squirrels around on the ground under the feeders, waiting for the birds to drop some seed. When I fill the feeders, I throw out a couple of cups of sunflower seed and mixed seed with peanuts for the squirrels. Last week we had fifteen squirrels at one time. I felt like Saint Francis.

My good friend Alfred Millard made a platform feeder for me that I attached to a tree, the intent being to put peanuts on it at dusk and attract flying squirrels. This has not yet happened as I realized I don’t go outside after dark, but the winter is yet to come so maybe I will mend my slothful ways.

Bird and squirrels

Meanwhile, I do put some peanuts on it during the day and the gray squirrels quickly learned that it was a good place to hang out. Mostly they sit up there trying to figure out: a) how to get to the various bird feeders, and b) whether Saint Frances is coming out of the house any time soon.

Bird and squirrels

I need to get some sort of pole-mounted platform feeder that the ground feeding birds may be able to utilize. The cardinals don’t seem to be able to use the tube feeders I have, and the squirrels don’t leave anything for the juncos or white-throated sparrows to forage for.

I can’t blame the squirrels. It was a bad mast year in our neighborhood (that is, there were virtually no acorns this year) so they don’t have a whole lot to eat. One of the coolest events was when a hawk swooped in, landed on the ground next to the feeders and ran under the canopy of the adjacent patch of hostas after something, probably a chipmunk.

He came up empty. My wife says: wouldn’t you feel bad if that hawk had caught a squirrel, and I have to admit that….well, no. Not that bad, really. Now, whenever the yard gets really quiet—no birds, no squirrels—I think maybe there is a hawk up in one of the trees, waiting for his moment.

At these times I wait with my binoculars in one hand and my handy identification sheet to the hawks of the East coast that Stephanie sells in the Beyond Behnke’s online store, and wait for another swoop. If it happens again, this time I’ll know what sort of hawk has paid a visit to our bird feeder.

By Larry Hurley; Behnke Alumnus

Larry Hurley, perennials specialist for Behnke Nurseries (now retired), started with Behnke’s in1984. Larry enjoys travel, food and photography. He and his wife Carolyn have visited Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Brazil, South Korea and much of Europe. Their home is on a shady lot where a lot of perennials have met their Maker over the years.

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