Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Maintain Feeders After Storms Pass
October 29, 2021
By Steve Grinley
This week’s storm has raised havoc with feeders. If you have been feeding birds right into the Fall and left feeders out during the storm, you may have experienced some damage. At the very least, seed probably got very wet and now is a good time to clean feeders out and replace the seed with fresh. If you have experienced some feeder damage, your local, friendly wild bird supply store (wink, wink) may have the parts you need to put them back in working order.
Wet seed can cause mold, and bacteria can build in neglected feeder and can harm the birds, or cause them to avoid your feeder completely. Clean you feeders with soap and water. If there is mold build up, use a 10% bleach solution to kill any germs. Some people also recommend vinegar.
Be sure to disassemble all parts where mold may be lingering because the mold will return if you don’t. There are many “easy open” feeders on the market today that make this cleaning chore a lot easier. Then rinse your feeder thoroughly, let it dry completely, and then add fresh seed.
The activity had slowed at the feeders these past weeks before the storm. Our usual flock of goldfinches has dwindled to just a few individuals as the finches take advantage of the abundance of natural seeds that is available during autumn. The hummingbirds and orioles have departed for warmer climates. After the storm passed, activity has picked up as birds flock to the feeders for quick nourishment.
As the natural seed supply is depleted, our resident finches, chickadees, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers will return to the feeders to supplement their diet. Juncos and white-throated sparrows are starting to return, and winter finches may descend upon us soon. Now is the time to prepare for their return, before it becomes too cold to work outdoors. So as you clean up the yard, rake the leaves and prepare your house and yard for winter, think about preparing your yard for the winter birds as well.
Be sure that you position your feeders where you can see them from the house. That is the fun of having feeders in the first place – so you can enjoy the company of birds on those cold winter days. You may want to add a pole in front of a window, or a bracket off the deck, to view the birds better. Also think about access to the feeders to fill and maintain them when there is a foot of snow on the ground. If you think about it now, putting a pole in the ground is a lot easier now than after the ground freezes in a month or two.
If squirrels are a problem, try isolating a pole away from anything from which a squirrel can jump, and put a good baffle on the pole to prevent the squirrel from climbing up the pole (yes, they can even climb the skinniest poles). Then you can hang most any feeder off the pole without fear of squirrels getting to it.
If that won’t work for your situation and you know that the squirrel will get to the feeder where you want to place it (off the deck, for instance), then there some squirrel-proof feeders that are ninety-nine percent effective. (I never say “never” when it comes to squirrels.) Some of these feeders are so effective that customers return to buy more of them for their yard, or as a gift for a friend that is particularly frustrated with squirrels eating all their bird seed. Also remember to plan to provide water for the birds during the colder months, when fresh water becomes scarce. A deicer for you bird bath is a good way to keep fresh water available. Or if your bird bath is ceramic or cement, you may want to bring that in for the winter and add a plastic bath that has a built in heater. These heated baths and separate deicers are energy efficient, most using low wattage, and have built in thermostats that turn them on and off with the temperature.
Planning for the birds now will not only help you welcome some of the migrants going through your yard now, but it will provide for months of enjoyment during the colder winter months. It helps the birds survive and, in some ways, it helps us survive as well.