WORDS ON BIRDS
Clean Feeders and Suet Will Encourage Birds
By Steve Grinley
Last week I talked about the rain and wind storm that hit our area
and how our birds survived it all. One thing I didnít mention was
that after the storm, I saw the need to clean out all the feeders
again. The wind-driven rain soaked all of the ports in the tube
feeders and the open trays were clogged with the smaller seeds.
Most of my feeders at home have tiny
holes in the bottom that helps drain water out of the feeders and
also helps air to circulate inside the feeders. As I was cleaning, I
had to use a pin to help clear those holes before filling the
feeders again. It was slow work, but will help keep the new seed
Other folks have
also seen the need for cleaning their feeders as several customers
have come in seeking assistance with the task of reassembling
cleaned feeder components. The storm seemed to have sparked
additional activity at most bird feeders, so if activity has slowed
at your feeders, it may be an indication of the need to clean them.
As the weather has also turned colder these last few days, the
numbers of birds have increased and their feeder visits have become
more frequent. They are going through the seed much faster now, and
they are spending much more time at the suet.
With colder weather finally approaching, and though I have mentioned
it before this season, now is a good time to add suet to your birds
diet if you havenít already done so. Suet is appreciated by birds
year round, but it is especially important as a source of fat and
protein during the colder months. Suet is a good way to attract
woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and brown creepers.
Lots of birds enjoy suet including Carolina wrens, catbirds, orioles
and thrushes, especially bluebirds. A few warblers will also feed on
suet, but they donít usually winter here.
A simple mesh bag will hold beef suet that you can buy from a
butcher or the meat department of a grocery store. Raw beef suet
does get rancid in short time but you can render it to have it last
longer. Melt it down and add peanut butter, bird seed, raisins or
nuts. It is fun to experiment and try new things.
A simpler way is to buy commercial suet cakes. These can be placed
in mesh bags or suet cages. The vinyl-coated metal cages provide
protection against squirrels that would chew right through a mesh
bag. There are also suet feeders with extensions on the bottom,
referred to as ďtail propsĒ because it helps the woodpeckers,
especially the larger ones, to prop their stiff tail when feeding
(as they do on trees.) Our hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers
appreciate the tail prop on our suet feeder, but even the small
downy woodpeckers use it when they are pecking at the lower part of
the suet cake.
The other popular
suet feeder at our house is the log feeder. It is made of real wood
with holes drilled in it. Suet ďplugsĒ are available commercially
that can be used to plug the holes. The log is very natural for the
woodpeckers and nuthatches, and the chickadees and titmice also use
it. They all can cling to the log without the need for perches which
only encourage starlings and squirrels.
Unfortunately starlings also like suet and can often dominate a suet
feeder. If they are a problem, there are "upside-down" suet feeders
that permit woodpeckers, chickadees and other light birds to cling
underneath and feed, while starlings are too heavy to hang
upside-down to feed. These feeders may also deter squirrels.
There is another suet feeder that is surrounded by a cage that
allows smaller birds, including downy woodpeckers, to feed but keeps
gray squirrels and large birds out. If squirrels persist, they are
usually after the seed or nuts mixed in with the commercial suet and
they donít usually bother with pure suet. Raw suet or pure suet
cakes is usually ignored by squirrels. Suet cakes with hot pepper
also help to discourage the squirrels, but the birds donít have the
sensory glands for pepper and they donít mind it.
Birds really enjoy suet made with peanuts or peanut butter and we do
serve those suet cakes in feeders that are protected by a baffle on
a pole. The squirrels canít climb past the baffle or jump to the
feeders from a nearby tree. It is satisfying to watch so many birds
enjoy the suet while the squirrels are on the ground looking up in
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194 Route 1
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